As Fat As We're Gonna Be?


Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which includes direct measurement of height and weight, indicate that the prevalence of obesity among children and teenagers, after tripling between the '70s and the '90s, has leveled off at around 16 percent since 1999. Looking at body mass indexes among 2-to-19-year-olds in 1999-2000, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006, CDC researchers found "no statistically significant trend over the 4 time periods." This result, reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is similar to the conclusion of an earlier analysis of NHANES data on adults, which suggested that the obesity rate among American women, and possibly among men as well, has reached a plateau in recent years.

I don't know why we've stopped getting fatter (assuming that we have), but there's little reason to believe changes in government policy have had much to do with it. "It is not clear if the lull in childhood weight gain…is the result of public anti-obesity efforts to limit junk food and increase physical activity in schools," concedes New York Times reporter Tara Parker-Pope. "The lull could represent a natural plateau that would have occurred regardless of public health efforts." But she clearly wants to believe (emphasis added):

In Arkansas, a statewide obesity effort has eliminated vending machines in elementary schools, added a half-hour of daily physical activity to the school curriculum and sent home annual childhood health reports alerting parents about obesity risks. As part of the program, school officials in the past four years have tracked the weight and height of 475,000 children, and those numbers show that average body mass index rates in Arkansas have held steady….

One worry is that as obesity rates stabilize, financing for childhood health efforts will wane. In Arkansas, the program was a success but a financial crunch prompted the state legislature recently to cut physical activity programs in seventh through 12th grade.

The only evidence Parker-Pope offers to back up her assertion that the Arkansas program "was a success" is that BMIs among kids in the state "have held steady"—just as they have throughout the country. Isn't that what the article is about?

Back in January, I noted former Arkansas governor and former GOP presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee's concern about your weight.