Severe obesity in children under 4: What you need to know

Severe obesity in children under 4: What you need to know

Obesity rates among both children and adults in the U.S. have been on the rise for years, but data from a recent study suggests a rise in rates of severe obesity among children aged 2-4 years old.

According to research published in the journal “Pediatrics” by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), about 2 percent of children between 2 and 4 years of age participating in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program are considered severely obese, which is categorized as being well above the 95th percentile for body mass index based on sex, age, weight and height.

“Obesity is a major problem in our country. Nearly 20 percent of children and teens in the U.S. are considered obese,” says Dr. Jeremy Daigle, the medical director of the Healthy Active Living Program for Advocate Children’s Hospital and the Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance. “Children with severe obesity are at an even greater risk of developing many dangerous health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.”

The researchers measured multiple factors in the lives of children studied to help determine what may be influencing excess weight gain at such a young age. Among the highest related factors to obesity – food insecurity, inadequate sleep, daily consumption of fast food and/or soft drinks and screen time. Together, these risk factors were accountable for about 43 percent of obesity risk among the children.

In an AAP news release regarding the study, the association says, “The study underscores the need for ongoing monitoring of post-pandemic children’s health status. It also further supports the need for children and families from households with lower incomes across the nation to have access to clinical detection, such as health care screenings and referrals to effective family-based interventions to support healthy growth.”

Dr. Daigle echoes those sentiments. “We are tirelessly battling our country’s obesity epidemic. Through our Healthy Active Living Program, we strive to fight childhood obesity by partnering with families to create healthy habits for life as well as educate the community through school-based programs, community partnerships and policy change. The program serves children between 2-18 years of age and their families by providing a personalized focus on needs to live a happier, healthier life.”

If you are concerned about your child’s weight, speak with their pediatrician. Find one in Illinois or Wisconsin

Learn more about the Healthy Active Living Program.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.