Recent studies have shown a slight decline in the level of childhood obesity. About 15% of kids are now classified obese, down a few points from the mid-2000s.
Still, about a third of American kids are overweight or obese, triple the rate of 50 years ago. And, obesity remains a widespread and stubborn problem, particularly at the very top end of the scale.
The American Heart Association says “standard approaches to weight loss are insufficient” for about 5% of kids, and that the medical community needs to consider a new set of treatments. It also wants a new designation that goes beyond the merely obese: what it calls “severe obesity.”
Kids are judged as obese according to their Body Mass Index, and their age and gender. The AHA wants “severely obese” to apply to those “20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age,” or a BMI 35 or higher. That means a girl aged seven of average height weighing more than 75 pounds. Or, a 13-year-old boy, average height, weighing in excess of 160 pounds.
The AHA is particularly concerned about this group of kids because they are likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular issues in later life (if not before), and because conventional messages about better diet and more exercise seem not to work very well. The group recommends more research into weight loss surgery for kids, better drugs and medical devices, and more recognition of “severe obesity as a chronic disease.”
“Severe obesity in young people has grave health consequences,” says Aaron Kelly, a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, in a press release. “It’s a much more serious childhood disease than obesity.”