Amanda Staiano, PhD Associate Professor Director, Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory Pennington Biomedical Research Center Baton Rouge, LA

Huge Number of Children Newly Classified as Obese In Only a Decade Interview with:

Amanda Staiano, PhD Associate Professor Director, Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory Pennington Biomedical Research Center Baton Rouge, LA

Dr. Staiano

Amanda Staiano, PhD
Associate Professor
Director, Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory
Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Baton Rouge, LA  What are the main findings?

Response: The U.S. government funds the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is an ongoing surveillance study on the health and nutritional status of people living in the U.S. What is special about NHANES is it’s designed to be nationally representative and it uses objective measurements, so we’re more confident that this accurately reflects the health of the country. For this paper, we looked at the most recently released data to see how many children in the U.S. have obesity, meaning they’re above the 95th percentile for height and weight based on their age and sex. We extracted data from 2011 to 2020, which includes nearly 15,000 children and adolescents and is the most recently available data prior to the March 2020 COVID-19 shutdown when NHANES paused.  What are the main findings?

Response: We found that obesity among children and adolescents steadily increased in each cycle, from 17.7% in 2011 to 21.5% in 2020, and this increase is seen across every major race/ethnic group and particularly for preschool-aged children and adolescents. This is a huge number of children newly classified as having obesity. Once a child develops obesity, it is very likely they will continue to have obesity throughout their lives. People with obesity are at greater risk for a host of health problems, from cancer to diabetes to heart disease. Many children with obesity develop asthma and sleep problems, and many children face significant bias and discrimination and develop anxiety and depression. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Obesity is not going away, and in fact recent data (not nationally representative) show even larger gains in children’s weight during the COVID-19 shutdown and during times of restricted nutrition and activities. Pediatric healthcare providers play a critical role in following American Medical Association and other professional guidelines to screen and monitor for obesity and its comorbidities and to offer and refer pediatric patients to an evidence-based weight management program to help children and their families to slow down their weight gain and lose weight. The most effective programs are delivered to the entire family, especially involving the parent or main caregiver, and involve teaching behavior change skills, healthy eating, and physical activity. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends delivering at least 26 contact hours of a comprehensive weight management program. Some children and adolescents may qualify for medication and metabolic and bariatric surgery coupled with lifestyle programs. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Prevention and treatment are both necessary at an early age. The first steps are to change our environments to incentivize healthy food outlets and create safe, family-friendly physical activity options. But many kids already need treatment for their obesity — getting more healthcare providers on board to screen, monitor, and treat obesity is essential. This is not a kid or parent problem – our entire community needs to step up to be advocates for healthy environments and to make sure children with obesity are getting access to the best available treatment options. This means health insurance companies, urban planners, school administrators, summer program leaders, all need to be on board with designing healthy environments and ensuring families have access to evidence-based treatment options that will treat obesity and its comorbidities. 

No disclosures.


Hu K, Staiano AE. Trends in Obesity Prevalence Among Children and Adolescents Aged 2 to 19 Years in the US From 2011 to 2020. JAMA Pediatr. Published online July 25, 2022. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.2052

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Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Marie Benz MD FAAD