America’s obesity crisis only got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, with rates of the condition among the youngest in the population starkly increasing, a new study finds.
Researchers at the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, found that 21.5 percent of Americans between the ages of two and 19 were obese in 2020.
This is a 17 percent jump from previous data gathered in 2016 — signaling America’s worsening obesity crisis and highlighting another potential long-term negative effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on the health of Americans.
High obesity rates in America are not just limited to the youth, though, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting that over 40 percent of American adults are obese.
Rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. jumped 17% from 2011 to 2020, with those aged 12 to 19 years old the most at risk
Children who are obese are more likely to remain in that state for the rest of their lives, setting them up for many health issues down the line (file photo)
‘Obesity among youth is a major public health concern in the U.S.,’ researchers wrote in the study.
The team, which published their findings Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, gathered data from across the 2010s from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the study.
The survey is conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to gauge the overall level of health and nutrition related problems in the United States.
In total, data from 14,967 children between two to 19 years old were included in the study.
Data was also split into three age groups, two to five year olds, six to 11 year olds and adolescents aged 12 to 19.
In total, just over 21 percent of children two to 19 were found to meet the criteria to be considered clinically obese — a 17 percent jump from the 17.7 percent recorded in 2011 and 2012.
HOW DOES OBESITY AFFECT THE BRAIN?
Obesity’s affect on the brain is poorly understood and a growing area of research.
A study by the University of Alabama suggests weight gain impairs our cognitive functioning even in those without dementia.
And brain scans taken of morbidly obese patients reveal older people who carry dangerous amounts of weight have higher levels of degradation of the brain cells.
However, whether this also occurs in younger patients is unclear.
Obesity has also been linked to a reduced attention span, as well as slower motor speed and information processing.
Older people are consistently found to be more affected, which may be due to cognitive function declining with age anyway.
And reduced cognitive functions may affect an obese person’s ability to lose weight.
Poor memory and functioning has also been linked to patients ‘slipping’ from their weight-loss programme after bariatric surgery.
This rise was mainly fueled by the eldest age group. Adolescents aged 12 to 17 saw a massive 27 percent increase in obesity rate from 2011 to 2020, jumping from 20.1 percent to 25.6 percent.
The shift was greatest between 2015 and 2016 to 2020 — increasing from 21.7 percent to 25.6 percent.
Obesity among children six to 11 was not quite as prevalent, but rates are also shockingly high.
Researchers found that 22.8 percent of children in the age group are clinically obese — up from 20.4 percent in 2015 and 2016.
Rates of obesity among children two to five years old are decreasing though, a potentially promising sign that America’s dietary crisis could soon be curbed.
The survey found that 12.9 percent of the youngest children in the study are obese- down from 13.9 percent four years earlier.
It is still an increase over the course of the decade, though, from 10.3 percent in 2011 and 2012.
Researchers are concerned by the findings, and write that more research needs to be done to identify what risk factors a child may have to becoming obese later in life.
The causes for the nation’s obesity crisis are multi-faceted though and are not attributed to just one factor alone.
A Pew Research study found that Americans are eating 23 percent more calories now than they were in previous decades.
This is combined with a more sedentary life style that many are living. Children are less likely to get the recommended one hour of daily physical activity now than they were in previous years.
The pandemic likely exacerbated these issues. Children who stayed home from school were less likely to go and play outdoors where they would get more exercise.
They were also more likely to snack throughout the day, adding calories that they previously would not have in a more structured school environment.
While obese children still have time to shed weight and eventually live a healthy life, it does set them up for more health problems later down the line.
Many obese children are diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, the former is a lifelong condition that much be managed daily to live a healthy life.
They are also more likely to stay obese throughout the rest of their lives, setting them up for health problems down the line like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure among others.