Some of our kids are falling behind us. Literally. The epidemic of obesity may have reached a plateau for now. But among the heaviest kids -- the ones already at greater risk of health problems, it's getting worse.
Now, we already know we've got a serious weight problem. About one in five kids in the U.S. is obese.
But researchers from Kaiser Permanente recently discovered that a significant portion of those kids are extremely obese, as in morbidly obese. (Check out their video above.)
The researchers analyzed height and weight measurements of more than 700, 000 children and teens enrolled in the the health giant's Southern California integrated health plan in 2007 and 2008. They found 7.3 percent of boys and 5.5 percent of girls were extremely obese, translating into more than 45,000 extremely obese children just in this one southern California study.
If this is happening in California, which is considered to have a moderate obesity problem, compared to the rest of the nation, one can only guess the extent of extreme obesity among kids nationwide, particularly in states with the highest rates of adult obesity like Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.
To understand what extreme obesity means look at it this way: A ten year old girl measuring 4 feet 6 inches tall should normally weigh around 71 pounds. The extremely obese girls in the study at this age and height weighed nearly 130 pounds. A 5 foot 3 inch teenage girl whose normal weight is about 119 pounds -- weighed in at over 220. A 5 foot 6 inch boy the same age weighed more than 230 pounds.
And, even more than the obvious social challenges these kids face among their peers, there are serious physical implication in carrying around all that extra weight. "This generation of children may be the first generation not to live as long as their parents do," says Researcher Dr. Amy Porter is a pediatrician who leads the Pediatric Weight Management Iniative for Kaiser Permanente's Southern California Region.
Dr. Porter says these extremely obese children are burdened with stressors on their bodies for a very long period of time. And that makes them particularly vulnerable to weight related problems diabetes like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver disease, joint problems and sleep apnea. Porter says that already she's seeing more and more children with these types of problems. These are problems, she says, doctors never used to see in the pediatric population.
So what's a parent to do? The undramatic, but important stuff: Buy and eat more fruit and veggies, exercise together.
Their findings are published online in the Journal of Pediatrics.