A new study adds to evidence that obesity is becoming more common in young children in America.
The study appeared in the medical publication Pediatrics.
The findings are similar to other national data, which suggests around 2.5 percent of all preschool-aged children were severely obese during the same period.
One of the study’s writers, Heidi Blanck of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said “We were doing well and now we see this upward trend....We are dismayed at seeing these findings.”
Dismayed is a term that means very worried or disappointed.
The study looked at children ages 2 to 4 who took part in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The program gives healthy foods and other services to preschool-aged children in low-income families. The children were weighed and measured.
The researchers found that 2.1 percent of kids in the program were severely obese in 2010. Six years later, the rate had dropped to 1.8 percent. But by 2020, it was 2 percent. That amounts to about 33,000 of more than 1.6 million kids in the WIC program.
The study showed major increases in 20 states. California’s was the highest at 2.8 percent. There also were large increases in some racial and ethnic groups. The highest rate, about 2.8 percent, was among Hispanic children.
Experts say severe obesity at a very early age is nearly irreversible – meaning the damage is nearly impossible to undo.
Severe obesity is strongly linked with health problems and an early death.
It is not clear why the increase occurred, Blanck said.
When WIC obesity rates dropped, some experts suggested 2009 policy changes might be responsible. Those changes took out juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat, and tried to make it easier for people to buy fruits and vegetables.
The package has not changed. But “the daily hardships that families living in poverty are facing may be harder today than they were 10 years ago, and the slight increases in the WIC package just weren’t enough,” said Dr. Sarah Armstrong, a Duke University childhood obesity researcher.
The researchers faced difficulties. The number of kids in WIC declined in the past ten years. And the study included 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit. At the time, fewer parents brought their children in to see doctors. That reduced the amount of complete information available.
Despite its limitations, it was a “very well done study,” said Deanna Hoelscher, a childhood obesity researcher at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. She added, “It gives you a hint of what’s going on.”
What has happened since 2020 is not yet known. Some small studies have suggested an increase in childhood obesity — especially during the pandemic. During the pandemic, kids were kept home from schools. Their eating and bedtime schedules were changed and physical activity decreased.
“We are thinking it’s going to get worse,” Hoelscher said.
I’m John Russell.
Mike Stobbe reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
obesity – n. a medical problem involving having too much body fat. It increases the risk of many other diseases and health problems
dismayed – adj. Worried, disappointed, or upset
hint – n. a small piece of information that helps you guess an answer