Kaiser study: extreme obesity among kids is on the rise

March 18, 2010

This graph from Kaiser Permanente shows the normal, obese and extremely obese weights for boys of average height at different ages.

Extreme obesity is affecting more children than ever, according to a massive new study of children’s health records from Southern California.

The study, published today in the Journal of Pediatrics, examined electronic health records for more than 700,000 children and teens ages 2 to 19 in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health plan for 2007 and 2008.

The research found that 7.3 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls were extremely obese, using a definition published in 2009 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Among children of color the numbers were even more alarming: 12 percent of black teen-age girls and 11.2 percent of Hispanic teen-age boys were found to be extremely obese.

If the numbers from Southern California reflect the state as a whole, more than a half million children in California would be classified as extremely obese.

“Without major lifestyle changes, these kids face a 10 to 20 years shorter life span and will develop health problems in their twenties that we typically see in 40 -60 year-olds,” said Corinna Koebnick, a Kaiser research scientist who led the study.

Children who are extremely obese, she said, are at higher risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and joint problems, among other ailments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, extreme obesity is defined as 1.2 times the 95th percentile, or a body mass index of more than 35 kilograms per meter-squared.

What’s that mean in layman’s terms?

A 15-year-old boy of average height would have a normal weight of about 129 pounds. An obese boy of that height and age would weigh 186 pounds. An extremely obese boy would weigh 231 pounds.

–Daniel Weintraub

For more on this study see Kaiser’s web site at www.kp.org

To calculate your child’s body mass index, go here.

The full study is available by subscription only at the Journal of Pediatrics.

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One Response to Kaiser study: extreme obesity among kids is on the rise

  1. cshepherd

    March 19, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Really crazy that the problem could be anywhere near this bad. I wonder what the demographics of the families involved are? I know very few people who would choose Kaiser over an other option, so I would have to imagine the sample is bias towards those with less choice (and probably lower incomes).

    Are there any studies looking at this over time? It really does appear that the problem has accelerated over the past 10 years or so. I’m in my late 20s and don’t remember the problem being anywhere near this bad when I was a kid.

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