Is CDC Massaging the Obesity Stats?

November 22nd, 2015 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

The world was positively giddy this week following the release of a new CDC Obesity prevalence report. There was so much self-congratulation going on in the childhood obesity world I was afraid of an outbreak of carpal tunnel syndrome.

The headlines shouted that the childhood obesity numbers had stabilized and many groups claimed credit for the success. The CDC reported that, “the prevalence of obesity among U.S. youth was 17% in 2011-2014. Overall, the prevalence of obesity among preschool-aged children (2-5 years) (8.9%) was lower than among school-aged children (6-11 years) (17.5%) and adolescents (12-19) (20.5%).” The report goes on to state, “Between 2003-2004 and 2013-14, however, no change in prevalence was seen among youth.”

Hey, great news, no?  Well, the 17% figured was derived from averaging three groups: 2-5YOA, 6-11 YOA and 12-19 YOA. I question of including 2-5 year olds. The prevalence for this group is about half for the other age groups. And, frankly, they are toddlers. Their prevalence figure probably represents parental panic at the prospects of raising an overweight child. This panic may lead to restrained eating strategies which often fail as the child grows up. As soon as the child starts to exercise more control over their own feeding and behavior, the prevalence rate doubles. Doubles! Taking the 2-5 years old out of the equation, the youth prevalence rate is 19%, not 17%. , 19% is not leveling off. (Truth be told I did not attempt to re-calculate the historical figures without the 2-5 age group.) Keep in mind that CDC views obesity as a binary switch. You are either obese or not. They do not take into account the growth of body weights within the obesity category, i.e. class III or severe obesity growth.

Finally, the CDC does note, “The prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults remains higher than the Healthy People 2020 goal of 30.5%. Although the overall prevalence of childhood obesity is higher than the Healthy People 2020 goal of 14.5%, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 2-5 is below the goal of 9.4%.”

Before popping the champagne, advocates and the media should consider that we are moving further and further away from the targets of Healthy People 2020, not to mention Healthy People 2010. Therefore, it is reasonable to ask if self-congratulation based on failure is an appropriate response.