Close to one-fifth of American children are now obese, a new CDC report has revealed.
The data confirmed that, despite government efforts to control the problem, the childhood obesity rate has continued to rise, hitting an all-time high in 2016.
The rate for adults has also increased, jumping to almost 40 percent last year, according to the new analysis.
Researchers are warning that, while attempts to eliminate childhood obesity are not necessarily failing, public health, education and medical professionals all need to work together to tackle the issue jointly.
A new CDC report has found that about a fifth of the children in the US are obese. This graph shows the breakdown of obesity rates by age and sex
The new data reveal that the country's childhood obesity rate has been growing steadily since 1999. It decreased briefly only once, between 2003 and 2006, but it quickly picked up speed again in the following decade.
Hispanic and black children in the US struggle more with childhood obesity than white and Asian minors, according to the figures.
In a striking example, the report highlights the fact that only about 12 percent Asian males aged two to 19 are obese while a staggering 28 percent of Hispanic males that age are.
The report also found that boys of all races in this age group were more likely than girls to be obese, with the exception of black children.
Additionally, the data revealed that adolescents aged 12 to 19 had a higher obesity rate than children aged six to 11 or those who were two to five-years-old.
The report warned that any agency that focuses on public health needs to be aware of the obesity crisis, saying: 'Obesity is associated with serious health risks.'
This graph shows how the obesity rates for children and adults have fluctuated since 1999
Children's nutrition expert Dr Ihuoma Eneli said that the new report's results show the consequences of a drastic public health problem the US is being confronted with.
She explained that they reinforce the urgency with which officials need to be responding to the crisis. '[The percentage] is going in the wrong direction. They are large numbers; we have to work on making them better,' she said.
Dr Eneli explained that the older an obese child is, the more likely they are to experience obesity during adulthood, which could be due to the fact that it is harder for them to lose large amounts of excess weight due to metabolic changes.
Therefore, a 15-year-old child who is obese is more at-risk that a five-year-old child, and this should alert public health officials to monitor the rate of obese high school aged children closely.
HOW EDUCATION CAN LEAD TO LOWER CHILDHOOD OBESITY RATES
A 2013 report studied the impact of educating low-income children on how to make healthy food choices.
It found that children exposed to food education programs ate a quarter- to a third-cup more vegetables and fruits at home.
They were also more likely to choose low-fat or fat-free milk.
It explained environmental hurdles keeping economically disadvantaged people from fresh food, such as safety concerns, high prices, food availability and store upkeep.
People who struggle with obesity are more likely to endure the following conditions:
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea
- Breathing problems
- Mental illness
- Type 2 diabetes
- Liver disease
'It doesn't come alone,' Dr Eneli said, explaining that the children reflected in the alarming new report are more susceptible to liver disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Additionally Dr Eneli talked about the mental health concerns that are present in many obese children, including low self esteem.
From her perspective, the problem is not the healthy eating programs that are being designed and executed by schools, doctors' offices and other community institutions.
Rather, the problem is the lack of cooperation among these institutions. 'We need more to look around our public health programs,' Dr Eneli said, explaining that the message to obese children needs to be more united.
'By themselves, they're making a difference. How do we bring these programs together so they're integrated?'
Dr Eneli explained that the American Academy of Pediatrics, schools, the YMCA and others are doing a good job coming up with nutrition policies but 'the key is figuring out: how can we integrate them better?'
She gave an example of one such model that has worked successfully in her community in Columbus, Ohio. Dr Eneli spoke about one of the city's health department's initiatives called Water First For Thirst.
Along with the health department's emphasis on avoiding sugary drinks and instead consuming water, public schools and local hospitals have tried to send the same messages.
In Columbus school vending machines and cafeterias, only water is available, and hospitals also banned sugar-sweetened beverages. 'That is a message we've been able to push,' Dr Eneli explained. 'We know this is an effective intervention.'
'We need to pull all these efforts together,' Dr Eneli said. 'We should look at what we're doing and double down' and focus on reaching more people, she added.
Lastly, Dr Eneli warned of the dangers of labeling obesity as a condition children are in control of since scientists know little about how much of a role genetics play in the equation.
She cautioned that the line of thinking that places the blame for obesity on the child living with it is dangerous, saying: 'We should be careful.'