United States Has Highest Prevalence of Overweight Teens in 15 Country Study

In a study of adolescents across 15 countries, adolescents in the United States had the highest prevalence of overweight, according to an article in the January issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Overweight and obesity have increased worldwide among children, adolescents and adults, according to the article. The World Health Organization has designated obesity as one of the most important public health threats because of the significant health impact of diseases associated with obesity. Obesity in adults increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Obesity in adolescents is associated with obesity-related health problems in adulthood, with 50 percent to 80 percent of obese teenagers becoming obese adults. For children and adolescents, a body mass index (BMI, calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) at the 85th to 94th percentile for age generally is considered “at risk for overweight” and a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for age is generally considered “overweight.”

Inge Lissau, Ph.D., Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues compared the BMI and prevalence of BMI at or above the 85th percentile and 95th percentile (overweight) in adolescents in 13 European countries, Israel and the United States.

The researchers looked at the BMIs of 29,242 boys and girls aged 13 to 15 years from Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Flemish Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States.

The researchers used data from school based surveys in 1997-1998 to calculate BMIs for the adolescents. They used the ages 13.5 years and 15.5 years as standard cutoff points to determine what percentile children were in.

BMIs and corresponding percentiles are as follows:

BMIs of 24.8 and 24.4 defined overweight (95th percentile) for boys and girls aged 13.5 years, respectively; BMIs of 26.0 and 25.4 indicated overweight for boys and girls aged 15.5, respectively.

The authors found that the highest prevalence of overweight was found in the United States and the lowest in Lithuania. The prevalence of overweight in the United States was 12.6 percent in 13 year old boys, 10.8 percent in 13 year old girls, 13.9 percent in 15 year old boys, and 15.1 percent in 15 year old girls.

“Among 13 year olds, countries with significantly increased prevalence of BMI at or above the 85th percentile (for both sexes) were Ireland, Finland, and Greece. Countries with significantly low prevalence of BMI at or above the 85th percentile were the Czech Republic, Denmark, Flemish Belgium, France, Germany, Lithuania, and Sweden, although comparisons within and among countries by age and sex varied,” the authors write.

“Prevalence of overweight (BMI at or above the 95th percentile) using the study reference standard from this survey showed similar trends, with the U.S. adolescents reporting a higher prevalence of overweight than any of the European countries or regions or Israel,” write the researchers.

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