Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Be Wary of the Headlines: Has Toddler Obesity "Plummeted"?

Yesterday, a study was published showing the prevalence of obesity in children and adults over the last decade.

The headline that was commonly seen was "Toddler Obesity Plummets". This insinuates that the main story out of this study is that we are winning the "battle against obesity".

Let's look at two things: What the study says about toddler obesity and what it says overall.

First, the study did indeed find that toddler/preschool (ages 2-5) obesity in 2011-2012 is much lower than it was in 2003-2004. However, what it also showed is that the drop happened right after--in 2005-2006. In fact, if you look at the authors' previous work, you can see that it was much lower in 2001-2002. For some reason, 2003-2004 was anomaly in NHANES, or in obesity rates. The rates went from ~10% to ~14% to immediately back down to about ~10%.

To say that toddler obesity has plummeted in the last decade in disingenuous at best. It has only decreased when making the very specific comparison of one two-year cycle. The trend over the last decade is not significant. The authors do acknowledge the importance of the comparison, but do not discuss the very important difference in 2003-2004.

Second, although obesity in young children dominated the headlines, the paper actually examined children and adults at all ages. The real story of this paper, in my opinion? Nothing has changed. It hasn't changed for young children or teenagers, for young adults or older adults.

Don't let a shocking headline distract you.

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