Obesity Rates Decreasing for Many Teens, but Disparity Gap Widens

August 17, 2010

A new study says that although obesity rates are declining for many teens, they continue to increase for certain racial and ethnic groups, highlighting the need for interventions tailored to high-risk groups.

New research shows that although obesity rates are declining for many adolescents, they continue to increase for certain racial and ethnic groups, highlighting the need for interventions and policies tailored to high-risk groups.

Kristine A. Madsen, MD, MPH, and colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco examined trends in the prevalence of high body mass index (BMI) among Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, Asian, black, and Native American adolescents. The investigators analyzed records for more than 8 million students in grades five, seven, and nine who underwent California’s school-based BMI screening between 2001 and 2008.

Their findings, which are published in Pediatrics, revealed that for white and Asian girls and boys, obesity rates at the 95th percentile peaked in 2005, then declined over the next three years. Rates for Hispanic and Asian boys declined after 2005 but remained above 2001 levels, while Native Indian boys, while rates among black boys stayed at the same level each year.

For black and Native American girls, however, the prevalence of obesity continued to increase from 2001 to 2008, reaching levels of 22% and 23%, respectively. Even more alarming, the two groups were more than three times as likely as white girls to be severely obese, with a BMI at the 99th percentile, according to an online report of the study.

These trends, said researchers, “portend greater disparities over time, particularly in severe obesity.”

The study, which is supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the American Heart Association, is the first to find significant differences in obesity trends over time by race and ethnicity.