Obesity is rising in children and teens, according to a new report, but other health problems tied to obesity are increasing, too.
Children are struggling with obesity more than ever before, and a new study has the numbers to prove it.
According to a new report from the not-for-profit FAIR Health, both obesity and diabetes mellitus are increasing in the pediatric population, putting kids at risk for a host of other obesity-related conditions.
FAIR Health researchers reviewed 5 years of health insurance claims data from 2011 to 2015 to identify trends in obesity and diabetes among the nation’s insured children and adolescents. The organization found that both obesity and diabetes claims increased annually during the study period. Diabetes diagnoses more than doubled in individuals from birth to age 22 years over the study period, increasing a total of 109%.
Obesity increased by 191% overall for young persons aged 0 to 22 years during the 2011 to 2015 study period. The smallest increase was among children aged 3 to 5 years at 45%, while adolescents and young adults aged 19 to 22 years saw the highest increase at 154%. According to researchers, the problem gets worse with age-every age group above 5 years had a larger percentage increase in obesity than the age group before it.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that obesity prevalence is fairly stable over the years for children and adolescents, but the FAIR Health report notes that CDC’s data are based on interview and physical examinations of a cross-section of US citizens rather than on actual insurance claims. Both sets of data do, however, show an increase in obesity prevalence as children age.
As far as gender correlations, the FAIR Health study revealed that females were diagnosed with obesity more often in early and late childhood than males.
“The only exception was the middle school age group (children aged 10 to 13 years), in which the diagnosis appeared in claims for both males and females at approximately the same rate,” the report states. “Afterward, beginning in early high school (adolescents aged 14 to 16 years), the rate of female obesity compared with male obesity increased continuously until college age (young adults aged 19 to 22 years).”
By college, obesity rates mirrored that of adults-72% in females and 28% in males, according to the report. However, because the study is based on claims data, the researchers clarified that the results are unclear as to whether the rates meant that more females were obese, or whether more females sought treatment for their obesity than males.
“If the latter is true, it raises the question whether the greater cultural significance placed on female rather than male thinness might be a factor,” researchers state.
The CDC found a difference in obesity rates among males and females in adults, but not in children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years. Other studies, however, have found similar differences in obesity rates based on gender.
Females were more frequently diagnosed with obesity in the study, but males were more often diagnosed with diabetes.
The connection between obesity and diabetes is not new, but the researchers quantified the trend in this new report. Diabetes mellitus, a form of the disease typically driven by lifestyle and diet, has traditionally been an adult disease but its prevalence among children and teenagers has been increasing over the last 20 years, with diagnoses among 10- to 19-year-olds increasing 35% between 2001 and 2009 alone.
Diabetes claims increased 90% for children aged 3 to 5 years over the study period, and 80% to 90% in children aged 6 to 13 years. For young persons aged 14 to 22 years, claims increased between 120% and 125% over the 4-year study period.
Interestingly, although obesity claims were more frequent among females in the study, the opposite was true for diabetes diagnoses with the exception of 2 age groups-10 to 13 years in which claims were equal, and 19 to 22 years when claims were 52% female and 48% male.
Obesity and diabetes aren’t the end points, either. These conditions cause a host of other medical problems, from cardiovascular and renal diseases to eye and limb damage.
Researchers found that prediabetes claims increased by 110%, and hyperlipidemia claims increased 67%. The highest increase among associated conditions, however, was obstructive sleep apnea, which increased 161% in pediatric patients over the study period. Although obstructive sleep apnea can have a variety of causes, it’s most commonly associated with obesity. Middle-schoolers aged 10 to 13 years had the highest incidence of new obstructive sleep apnea diagnoses over the study period at 218%, according to the report, and the claims were more common in males across all age groups than in females.
Hypertension is also increasing in pediatric age groups, with the study estimating that systolic blood pressures were 1.4 mm Hg higher and diastolic pressures were 3.3 mm Hg higher in the year 2000 compared with rates found between 1988 and 1994. In the FAIR Health study, the trend continues with the greatest increase of 103% among children aged 6 to 9 years. Rates of increased blood pressure were about 75% among high school and college-aged adolescents and young adults, 63% among middle schoolers, and 51% among early high school students.
As far as where these problems are most common, the report found the highest rates of diabetes were in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Utah, and South Dakota. Diabetes was least prevalent among children and adolescents in New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. Similar patterns were found for obesity prevalence, according to the report.
Robin Gelburd, JD, president of FAIR Health, says the study data show that pediatricians should be mindful of the trend toward increasing obesity and diabetes mellitus diagnoses in children.
“We hope our findings will help influence pediatricians to adopt appropriate screening and diagnostic protocols relevant to obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as other obesity-related conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension,” Gelburd says. “We also hope pediatricians introduce nutritional and other interventions to help their patients avoid or modify obesity. We would likewise hope that medical school curricula give appropriate attention to these clinical profiles in order to prepare a new generation of physicians to identify and treat obesity and type 2 diabetes in the younger population.”
Pediatricians should have direct and honest conversations with parents about how to introduce a healthy diet and lifestyle at home, she says.
“They can make parents aware that obesity is not just a cosmetic issue, but a health issue, and that there are comorbidities associated with it,” Gelburd says. “They also can advise parents of the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, so that parents can let pediatricians know if any such signs or symptoms develop. Pediatricians would also be well advised to have available information to provide parents about programs in their areas that offer services and resources related to nutrition, athletics, and exercise for the younger population.”