Federal Childhood Obesity Study “Too Good To Be True”
PHOTO: Dr. David Allen, a pediatrician at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, doesn't put much stock in a recent report that says childhood obesity is plummeting. (Photo provided by UW-Health)
March 3, 2014
MADISON, Wis. - A federal study showing a sharp drop in childhood obesity has received a lot of attention recently, but is it accurate? Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate of 2- to 5-year-old children in the past decade.
However, a pediatric endocrinologist at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, Dr. David Allen, warned of serious problems with the statistical methods used in the study, and he said it is inaccurate.
"As I've been telling people who have asked me about this," Allen said, "this is sort of like getting that letter from the Publishers Clearing House in the mail saying you're a winner, when you really haven't done anything. And if it's really too good to be true, then probably it is a little bit too good to be true."
Allen said the real rate of childhood obesity has been about the same for the past decade, and solutions to the very real problem of childhood obesity will come at the environmental and economic level.
"That's where we're trying to do most of our work, in terms of trying to create healthier environments for children with regard to their nutrition and physical activity," he said, "in terms of their ability to move about, their ability to engage in active play, their ability to walk to school and be active when they're at school, and the ability to be exposed to healthy nutrition most of the time. All of that needs to make economic sense for it to go anywhere."
According to Allen, the nation must deal with a number of complex factors before Americans will see any sort of actual large reduction in the rate of childhood obesity.
He urged tackling the root reasons the societal environment has made it so difficult for many people to avoid obesity.
"It just doesn't encourage or allow enough physical activity; it doesn't make financial sense to eat healthy foods in small amounts; and a lot of other factors encourage an imbalance between the amount of energy that's expended and what's taken in," he explained.
A brief of the study is available at https://jama.jamanetwork.com.