Childhood Obesity Decreasing But Mainly in Boys Interview with:
Jessica M. Robbins, PhD

Adjunct Assistant Professor
Public Health Epidemiologist
Philadelphia Department of Public Health 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Response: The rapid increase in child obesity rates across the US in recent decades has affected Philadelphia as it has other cities.  The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has worked with the School District of Philadelphia to analyze data on students’ heights and weights to determine trends in obesity since the 2006-2007 school year.  Data we had examined through the 2009-2010 school year indicated that the prevalence of obesity and severe obesity were declining in this population, and notably were declining in African-American and Hispanic students as well.  We updated the analyses with data through the 2012-2013 school year to see if that trend had continued.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Response: Overall, the prevalence of obesity and particularly of severe obesity continued to decline, although more slowly than in the earlier period.  However, there were some disturbing disparities, with improvement largely limited to boys.  Girls in grades kindergarten through 5 and Hispanic girls actually saw increased obesity since 2009-2010.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: On the one hand, we are not seeing the runaway increases in child obesity that characterized much of the period since the 1970s.  On the other hand, not all communities seem to be benefitting equally from the initiatives to reduce child obesity.  We in the Public Health Department are working actively with community partners to extend our work and develop new approaches to help address this issue among girls, especially the youngest girls, and in the Hispanic community.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The findings demonstrate the importance of continuing to track what is happening among children in our communities, and to look for possible disparities.  In particular, it’s important to pay attention to both gender and race/ethnicity.  When the data allow you to do it, looking at racial/ethnic disparities within gender is really important, because the comparisons can be very different.  African-American girls have a higher prevalence of obesity than non-Hispanic white girls, for example, but African-American boys have a lower prevalence.  If you don’t disaggregate by gender, you miss that, and we need to think about what is driving those differences and how we can address them.  Beyond that, we need more research to help guide interventions to improve the health of students and families.


Robbins JM, Mallya G, Wagner A, Buehler JW. Prevalence, Disparities, and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Students in the School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2006–2013. Prev Chronic Dis 2015;12:150185. DOI:

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Jessica M. Robbins, PhD (2015). Childhood Obesity Decreasing But Mainly in Boys 

Last Updated on September 15, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD