Good news: US kids not as obese as we thought!


You’ve heard the news and you’ve seen it with your own eyes: overweight and obesity in the US have been increasing steadily over the last few decades. The trend heavily impacted our children and adolescents, whose unhealthy behaviors had facilitated their succumbing to the epidemic.

But wait, there’s some good news on the horizon!

According to a new study just published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics), researchers from the Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development studying the physical activity, sedentary, and dietary behaviors (obesogenic behaviors) of adolescents ages 11 to 16 for the last 8 years found significant differences in the following obesity markers:

  • Physical activity: The average number of days per week where adolescents engaged in 60 minutes+ of physical activity increased from 2001 to 2009.
  • Television viewing: Total TV viewing during both weekdays and weekend days decreased over the period being studied, with boys reporting significantly more TV than girls.
  • Video game playing and computer use: The study sample averaged less than 2 hours per day, but did not change significantly overall between 2005 and 2009, in other words, the trend has leveled off.
  • Dietary Intake: Consumption of fruits and vegetables increased while consumption of both sweets and soft drinks decreased over time.
  • Eating breakfast on weekdays: Overall, breakfast eating on weekdays increased for both boys and girls, while breakfast eating on weekends did not change significantly over time.
  • Weight Status: The average BMI percentile did not significantly increase from 2005 to 2009, suggesting that the increase in adolescent obesity observed over previous decades may be beginning to stabilize.

Bottom line? Our kids may not be getting as obese as we feared.  While the trend of obesity has not reversed itself completely, the good news is that it’s been at least leveling off.

According to Drs. Iannotti and Wang, the authors of the study, the pattern of behaviors in the adolescents surveyed “indicates there is considerable need for improvement.” Ideally, adolescents need to engage in the recommended 60+ minutes of physical exercise and consume 5+servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But they deemed the trends “encouraging” and suggested that continued improvements in physical activity, sedentary and dietary behaviors “may be necessary before the trend begins to turn downward”.

Source: Iannotti RJ, Wang J, Trends in physical activity, sedentary behavior, diet, and BMI among US adolescents, 2001-2009, Pediatrics 2013; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-1488.


Megan Broutian
Behavior analyst turned blogger, Megan writes about parenting tips using the best practices of behavioral psychology at behavioral CHILD and about life in general, and hers in particular, at megan BLOGSRead more about Megan Broutian here. Have a behavior or child development question? Ask Megan at contact(at)meganbroutian(dot)com.