The new results echo recent studies that found the increase in U.S.
obesity rates has slowed over the past several years (see Reuters
story of August 16, 2013 here: http://reut.rs/1iWcaVi).
“Even though the trends were flat across the years, the prevalence
of abdominal obesity is still too high,” said senior author Lyn M.
Steffen, from the School of Public Health at the University of
Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Abdominal obesity refers specifically to “visceral fat,” or the fat
that accumulates around the midsection. This can be measured by
waist circumference or by a waist-to-height ratio.
Using biennial data from a nationwide health and nutrition study,
Steffen and her coauthors found that about 18 percent of kids ages
two to 18 were obese based on their waist circumference in 2011 and
2012, very close to the rate in 2003 and 2004.
Kids who qualify for abdominal obesity have a waist circumference
larger than a given cutoff determined by their age and gender.
In the same group, 33 percent of kids ages six to 18 were considered
obese based on their waist-to-height ratio, according to results
published in Pediatrics. That means their waist circumference
equaled at least half of their height.
The findings are based on assessments of almost 17,000 children.
The only change in abdominal obesity between 2003 and 2012 came
among kids ages two to five, whose abdominal obesity rates decreased
by between three and five percent.
Kids who are obese or overweight often remain in that category as
adults, Steffen said.
Fat around the midsection is a good indicator of increased risk for
metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes,
she said, and abdominal obesity is a greater risk than general
This study did not address why obesity trends may be leveling off in
the U.S., but it could be due to policy changes highlighting the
dangers of sugar-sweetened beverages, Steffen suggested.
“Number one, it’s good, the prevalence of abdominal obesity remained
the same over the last eight years, that’s good, but the prevalence
is still high, so we need to think about what to do to lower the
numbers,” she told Reuters Health.
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Asheley Cockrell Skinner agreed there are still concerns.
“Recent publications tell us that overweight and obesity in general
are leveling off, but the more severe forms of obesity are
increasing,” Skinner told Reuters Health by email.
She studies health policy, management and pediatrics at the UNC
Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North
Carolina and wasn’t involved in the new research.
More severe levels of abdominal obesity could still be increasing,
but this study only looked at one large category of obesity, Skinner
“I don’t think this tells parents very much on its own,” she said.
“However, it does raise the important issue of abdominal obesity.”
An “apple-shaped” body has more abdominal obesity than a
“pear-shaped” body, she noted.
“Parents should be aware that abdominal obesity is a greater risk,
and may help doctors identify which children are at greatest risk
for health problems,” Skinner said.
Pediatrics, online July 21, 2014.
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