Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP
February 26, 2018
I'll never forget the afternoon I asked one of my patients, a 17-year-old high school student, what he was going to do after graduation. He had good grades and a great personality. He'd also been struggling with obesity since he was a toddler and now was being treated for hypertension. In answer to my question, he burst into tears.
"I always wanted to be a state trooper," he said, "but I'm afraid I won't pass the physical."
At that moment, I realized that we were not only fighting for his good health. We were struggling for his future.
In a new Pediatrics study, "Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children 1999-2016," the authors deliver a grim message that despite nearly 3 decades of awareness and prevention efforts, the childhood obesity epidemic continues to grow on a national scale.
A hoped-for stabilization in obesity rates among 2-5 year-old children suggested by earlier research has vanished. The new, more nuanced study found rates of overweight and obesity have increased in all age groups among children ages 2-19, in fact, and the increase in severe obesity and obesity in Black and Hispanic children is accelerating at an alarming rate.
In total, 1 out of every 5 children in the United States have obesity. The rates increase with age, and more than 40 percent of teens struggle with obesity by the time they reach 16-19 years of age. Slowly but relentlessly, the obesity epidemic has become a major threat to every child's ability to achieve their full potential as a healthy, productive adult.
Children, adolescents and young adults now have obesity related conditions that were once rarely seen before adulthood--type 2 diabetes, liver disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, and more--that are compromising their current and future health.
Obesity is not just a problem affecting individual patients, families or communities. Our collective future is in jeopardy. Beyond the human toll, the obesity epidemic threatens to bankrupt the nation and weaken our workforce. Without a healthy police force, emergency responders, teachers, and parents, for example, how can we support our community infrastructure?