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Have obesity rates reached a plateau?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 Posted by Travis Saunders
Time magazine has recently come out with a list of the top medical stories from 2008. Not surprisingly, the list includes several obesity-related stories. One of the more interesting items suggests that obesity rates in American children and adolescents may have reached a plateau. The report focuses on a paper published by Cynthia Ogden in JAMA earlier this year, which found that obesity rates in American youth did not change between 1999 and 2006. This is in contrast to the dramatic increases in obesity rates reported between 1988 and 2000.

So what is causing this plateau? It is possible that it is due to increased awareness of the importance of exercise and healthful diet in youth, and that that tide is finally starting to turn on the obesity epidemic. The Time article offers a different viewpoint, writing that "Experts say that the leveling off may be due not to better diet and exercise but to the possibility that we've hit a sort of genetic ceiling, with the entire population of children susceptible to gaining too much weight having done so." That seems like a rather morbid way to look at things, but the idea certainly has some merit (unfortunately the "experts" mentioned in the Time article are not cited, nor is the point elaborated any further). And finally, it may not be a plateau at all. Dr Ogden used a nationally representative sample to derive her findings, but it is still just one study; as yet no others have confirmed a plateau in other nations or age groups. As Diane Finegood of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research suggests, it may just be a "statistical aberration", and the next major survey could show that obesity rates are once again on the rise. And let's not forget that even if obesity rates are not increasing, they are at least holding steady (approximately 32% of youth had a high BMI in Dr Ogden's most recent study), at a rate which is far too high. But since we're approaching the holidays, let's look at the glass as half-full, and take heart from the fact that at least obesity rates in youth don't seem to be getting any worse.

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1 Response to "Have obesity rates reached a plateau?"

  1. Arya Said,

    I agree with Dr. Finegood, that this is likely an abberation.

    For my take on this, see my comments at


    Posted on December 4, 2008 at 10:40 AM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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