AAP eBooks

Obesity: Stigma, Trends, and Interventions

By American Academy of Pediatrics

Obesity is one of the defining health challenges of our generation. Studies project that, if current trends continue, more than 50% of the US population will have obesity within the next 20 years.


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  2. Page 4
    Address correspondence to Stephen J. Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP. E-mail: sjpont@gmail.com

    The stigmatization of people with obesity is widespread and causes harm. Weight stigma is often propagated and tolerated in society because of beliefs that stigma and shame will motivate people to lose weight. However, rather than motivating positive change, this stigma contributes to behaviors such as binge eating, social isolation, avoidance of health care services, decreased physical activity, and increased weight gain, which worsen obesity and create additional barriers to healthy behavior change. Furthermore, experiences of weight stigma also dramatically impair quality of life, especially for youth. Health care professionals continue to seek effective strategies and resources to address the obesity epidemic; however, they also frequently exhibit weight bias and stigmatizing behaviors. This policy statement seeks to raise awareness regarding the prevalence and negative effects of weight stigma on pediatric patients and their families and provides 6 clinical practice and 4 advocacy recommendations regarding the role of pediatricians in addressing weight stigma. In summary, these recommendations include improving the clinical setting by modeling best practices for nonbiased behaviors and language; using empathetic and empowering counseling techniques, such as motivational interviewing, and addressing weight stigma and bullying in the clinic visit; advocating for inclusion of training and education about weight stigma in medical schools, residency programs, and continuing medical education programs; and empowering families to be advocates to address weight stigma in the home environment and school setting.

  3. Page 16
    Address correspondence to Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, Department of Pediatrics, Duke University School of Medicine, 2213 Elba St, 146 Civitan Building, Durham, NC 27705. E-mail: eliana.perrin@duke.edu

    BACKGROUND Obesity-promoting content and weight-stigmatizing messages are common in child-directed television programming and advertisements, and 1 study found similar trends in G- and PG-rated movies from 2006 to 2010. Our objective was to examine the prevalence of such content in more recent popular children’s movies.

    METHODS Raters examined 31 top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies released from 2012 to 2015. For each 10-minute segment (N = 302) and for movies as units, raters documented the presence of eating-, activity-, and weight-related content observed on-screen. To assess interrater reliability, 10 movies (32%) were coded by more than 1 rater.

    RESULTS The result of Cohen’s κ test of agreement among 3 raters was 0.65 for binary responses (good agreement). All 31 movies included obesity-promoting content; most common were unhealthy foods (87% of movies, 42% of segments), exaggerated portion sizes (71%, 29%), screen use (68%, 38%), and sugar-sweetened beverages (61%, 24%). Weight-based stigma, such as a verbal insult about body size or weight, was observed in 84% of movies and 30% of segments.

    CONCLUSIONS Children’s movies include much obesogenic and weight-stigmatizing content. These messages are not shown in isolated incidences; rather, they often appear on-screen multiple times throughout the entire movie. Future research should explore these trends over time, and their effects.

  4. Page 29
    Address correspondence to Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences, Duke University, 2200 W Main St, Suite 720-A, Durham, NC 27705. E-mail: asheley.skinner@duke.edu

    OBJECTIVES To provide updated prevalence data on obesity trends among US children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years from a nationally representative sample.

    METHODS We used the NHANES for years 1999 to 2016. Weight status was determined by using measured height and weight from the physical examination component of the NHANES to calculate age- and sex-specific BMI. We report the prevalence estimates of overweight and obesity (class I, class II, and class III) by 2-year NHANES cycles and compared cycles by using adjusted Wald tests and linear trends by using ordinary least squares regression.

    RESULTS White and Asian American children have significantly lower rates of obesity than African American children, Hispanic children, or children of other races. We report a positive linear trend for all definitions of overweight and obesity among children 2–19 years old, most prominently among adolescents. Children aged 2 to 5 years showed a sharp increase in obesity prevalence from 2015 to 2016 compared with the previous cycle.

    CONCLUSIONS Despite previous reports that obesity in children and adolescents has remained stable or decreased in recent years, we found no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence at any age. In contrast, we report a significant increase in severe obesity among children aged 2 to 5 years since the 2013–2014 cycle, a trend that continued upward for many subgroups.

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    Address correspondence to June M. Tester, MD, MPH, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, 747 52nd Street, Oakland, CA 94609. E-mail: jtester@chori.org

    BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES As a distinct group, 2- to 5-year-olds with severe obesity (SO) have not been extensively described. As a part of the Expert Exchange Workgroup on Childhood Obesity, nationally-representative data were examined to better characterize children with SO.

    METHODS Children ages 2 to 5 (N = 7028) from NHANES (1999–2014) were classified as having normal weight, overweight, obesity, or SO (BMI ≥120% of 95th percentile). Sociodemographics, birth characteristics, screen time, total energy, and Healthy Eating Index 2010 scores were evaluated. Multinomial logistic and linear regressions were conducted, with normal weight as the referent.

    RESULTS The prevalence of SO was 2.1%. Children with SO had higher (unadjusted) odds of being a racial and/or ethnic minority (African American: odds ratio [OR]: 1.7; Hispanic: OR: 2.3). They were from households with lower educational attainment (OR: 2.4), that were single-parent headed (OR: 2.0), and that were in poverty (OR: 2.1). Having never been breastfed was associated with increased odds of obesity (OR: 1.5) and higher odds of SO (OR: 1.9). Odds of >4 hours of screen time were 1.5 and 2.0 for children with obesity and SO. Energy intake and Healthy Eating Index 2010 scores were not significantly different in children with SO.

    CONCLUSIONS Children ages 2 to 5 with SO appear to be more likely to be of a racial and/or ethnic minority and have greater disparities in social determinants of health than their peers and are more than twice as likely to engage in double the recommended screen time limit.

  6. Page 58
    Address correspondence to Inyang A. Isong, MD, ScD, MPH, Primary Care at Longwood, Boston Children’s Hospital, 300 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail: inyang.isong@childrens.harvard.edu

    OBJECTIVES The prevalence of childhood obesity is significantly higher among racial and/or ethnic minority children in the United States. It is unclear to what extent well-established obesity risk factors in infancy and preschool explain these disparities. Our objective was to decompose racial and/or ethnic disparities in children’s weight status according to contributing socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors.

    METHODS We used nationally representative data from ~10 700 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort who were followed from age 9 months through kindergarten entry. We assessed the contribution of socioeconomic factors and maternal, infancy, and early childhood obesity risk factors to racial and/or ethnic disparities in children’s BMI z scores by using Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition analyses.

    RESULTS The prevalence of risk factors varied significantly by race and/or ethnicity. African American children had the highest prevalence of risk factors, whereas Asian children had the lowest prevalence. The major contributor to the BMI z score gap was the rate of infant weight gain during the first 9 months of life, which was a strong predictor of BMI z score at kindergarten entry. The rate of infant weight gain accounted for between 14.9% and 70.5% of explained disparities between white children and their racial and/or ethnic minority peers. Gaps in socioeconomic status were another important contributor that explained disparities, especially those between white and Hispanic children. Early childhood risk factors, such as fruit and vegetable consumption and television viewing, played less important roles in explaining racial and/or ethnic differences in children’s BMI z scores.

    CONCLUSIONS Differences in rapid infant weight gain contribute substantially to racial and/or ethnic disparities in obesity during early childhood. Interventions implemented early in life to target this risk factor could help curb widening racial and/or ethnic disparities in early childhood obesity.

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    The adoption of healthful lifestyles by individuals and families can result in a reduction in many chronic diseases and conditions of which obesity is the most prevalent. Obesity prevention, in addition to treatment, is an important public health priority. This clinical report describes the rationale for pediatricians to be an integral part of the obesity-prevention effort. In addition, the 2012 Institute of Medicine report “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention” includes health care providers as a crucial component of successful weight control. Research on obesity prevention in the pediatric care setting as well as evidence-informed practical approaches and targets for prevention are reviewed. Pediatricians should use a longitudinal, developmentally appropriate life-course approach to help identify children early on the path to obesity and base prevention efforts on family dynamics and reduction in high-risk dietary and activity behaviors. They should promote a diet free of sugar-sweetened beverages, of fewer foods with high caloric density, and of increased intake of fruits and vegetables. It is also important to promote a lifestyle with reduced sedentary behavior and with 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity. This report also identifies important gaps in evidence that need to be filled by future research.

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    Obesity and eating disorders (EDs) are both prevalent in adolescents. There are concerns that obesity prevention efforts may lead to the development of an ED. Most adolescents who develop an ED did not have obesity previously, but some teenagers, in an attempt to lose weight, may develop an ED. This clinical report addresses the interaction between obesity prevention and EDs in teenagers, provides the pediatrician with evidence-informed tools to identify behaviors that predispose to both obesity and EDs, and provides guidance about obesity and ED prevention messages. The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight. Evidence suggests that obesity prevention and treatment, if conducted correctly, do not predispose to EDs.

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    Address correspondence to Jessica Hoffman, Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles, 4020 N Roxboro St, Durham, NC 27704. E-mail: jessica.hoffman@duke.edu

    BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES Effective treatment of childhood obesity remains elusive. Integration of clinical and community systems may achieve effective and sustainable treatment. However, the feasibility and effectiveness of this integrated model are unknown.

    METHODS We conducted a randomized clinical trial among children aged 5 to 11 presenting for obesity treatment. We randomized participants to clinical care or clinical care plus community-based programming at a local parks and recreation facility. Primary outcomes were the change in child BMI at 6 months and the intensity of the program in treatment hours. Secondary outcomes included health behaviors, fitness, attrition, and quality of life.

    RESULTS We enrolled 97 children with obesity, and retention at 6 months was 70%. Participants had a mean age of 9.1 years and a mean baseline BMI z score of 2.28, and 70% were living in poverty. Intervention participants achieved more treatment hours than controls (11.4 vs 4.4, SD: 15.3 and 1.6, respectively). We did not observe differences in child BMI z score or percent of the 95th percentile at 6 months. Intervention participants had significantly greater improvements in physical activity (P = .010) and quality of life (P = .008).

    CONCLUSIONS An integrated clinic-community model of child obesity treatment is feasible to deliver in a low-income and racially diverse population. As compared with multidisciplinary treatment, the integrated model provides more treatment hours, improves physical activity, and increases quality of life. Parks and recreation departments hold significant promise as a partner agency to deliver child obesity treatment.

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    Address correspondence to Monica Roosa Ordway, PhD, APRN, PPCNP-BC, Yale School of Nursing, PO Box 27399, West Haven, CT 06516-7399. E-mail: monica.ordway@yale.edu

    BACKGROUND Young children living in historically marginalized families are at risk for becoming adolescents with obesity and subsequently adults with increased obesity-related morbidities. These risks are particularly acute for Hispanic children. We hypothesized that the prevention-focused, socioecological approach of the “Minding the Baby” (MTB) home visiting program might decrease the rate of childhood overweight and obesity early in life.

    METHODS This study is a prospective longitudinal cohort study in which we include data collected during 2 phases of the MTB randomized controlled trial. First-time, young mothers who lived in medically underserved communities were invited to participate in the MTB program. Data were collected on demographics, maternal mental health, and anthropometrics of 158 children from birth to 2 years.

    RESULTS More children in the intervention group had a healthy BMI at 2 years. The rate of obesity was significantly higher (P < .01) in the control group (19.7%) compared with the intervention group (3.3%) at this age. Among Hispanic families, children in the MTB intervention were less likely to have overweight or obesity (odds ratio = 0.32; 95% confidence interval: 0.13–0.78).

    CONCLUSIONS Using the MTB program, we significantly lowered the rate of obesity among 2-year-old children living in low-socioeconomic-status communities. In addition, children of Hispanic mothers were less likely to have overweight or obesity at 2 years. Given the high and disproportionate national prevalence of Hispanic young children with overweight and obesity and the increased costs of obesity-related morbidities, these findings have important clinical, research, and policy implications.

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    Address correspondence to Rachael W. Taylor, PhD, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand. E-mail: rachael.taylor@otago.ac.nz

    OBJECTIVE To determine whether a 2-year family-based intervention using frequent contact and limited expert involvement was effective in reducing excessive weight compared with usual care.

    METHODS Two hundred and six overweight and obese (BMI ≥85th percentile) children aged 4 to 8 years were randomized to usual care (UC) or tailored package (TP) sessions at university research rooms. UC families received personalized feedback and generalized advice regarding healthy lifestyles at baseline and 6 months. TP families attended a single multidisciplinary session to develop specific goals suitable for each family, then met with a mentor each month for 12 months, and every third month for another 12 months to discuss progress and provide support. Outcome measurements (anthropometry, questionnaires, dietary intake, accelerometry) were obtained at 0, 12, and 24 months.

    RESULTS BMI at 24 months was significantly lower in TP compared with UC children (difference, 95% confidence interval: −0.34, −0.65 to −0.02), as was BMI z score (−0.12, −0.20 to −0.04) and waist circumference (−1.5, −2.5 to −0.5 cm). TP children consumed more fruit and vegetables (P = .038) and fewer noncore foods (P = .020) than UC children, and fewer noncore foods were available in the home (P = .002). TP children were also more physically active (P = .035). No differences in parental feeding practices, parenting, quality of life, child sleep, or behavior were observed.

    CONCLUSIONS Frequent, low-dose support was effective for reducing excessive weight in predominantly mild to moderately overweight children over a 2-year period. Such initiatives could feasibly be incorporated into primary care.

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    Address correspondence to Mona Sharifi, MD, MPH, Department of Pediatrics, Section of General Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, 333 Cedar St, PO Box 208064, New Haven, CT 06520-8064. E-mail: mona.sharifi@yale.edu

    OBJECTIVES To estimate the cost-effectiveness and population impact of the national implementation of the Study of Technology to Accelerate Research (STAR) intervention for childhood obesity.

    METHODS In the STAR cluster-randomized trial, 6- to 12-year-old children with obesity seen at pediatric practices with electronic health record (EHR)-based decision support for primary care providers and self-guided behavior-change support for parents had significantly smaller increases in BMI than children who received usual care. We used a microsimulation model of a national implementation of STAR from 2015 to 2025 among all pediatric primary care providers in the United States with fully functional EHRs to estimate cost, impact on obesity prevalence, and cost-effectiveness.

    RESULTS The expected population reach of a 10-year national implementation is ∼2 million children, with intervention costs of $119 per child and $237 per BMI unit reduced. At 10 years, assuming maintenance of effect, the intervention is expected to avert 43 000 cases and 226 000 life-years with obesity at a net cost of $4085 per case and $774 per life-year with obesity averted. Limiting implementation to large practices and using higher estimates of EHR adoption improved both cost-effectiveness and reach, whereas decreasing the maintenance of the intervention’s effect worsened the former.

    CONCLUSIONS A childhood obesity intervention with electronic decision support for clinicians and self-guided behavior-change support for parents may be more cost-effective than previous clinical interventions. Effective and efficient interventions that target children with obesity are necessary and could work in synergy with population-level prevention strategies to accelerate progress in reducing obesity prevalence.

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