OBESE CHILDREN: Cause Stumps Doctors, Researchers
Doctors and researchers have "more questions than answers" about why a growing number of American children are obese, and "no one can claim to have a good and reproducible method for preventing obesity in children or curing it," the New York Times reports in a front-page story. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, between 1976 and 1980, 6.5% of children ages six-11 were overweight, or heavier than 95% of children of the same age in studies from the 1960s and 1970s. But between 1990 and 1994, 11.4% of children in the same age group were overweight. Although "it is not clear why," Mexican-American children "appear to be among the most affected," the Times reports, noting the number of Mexican-American children who were overweight increased from 13.3% in the period between 1976 and 1980 to 17.7% in the period between 1990 and 1994.
While researchers, care providers and other "commentator[s]" have suggested that "too much television, ... ever-growing portions of food or too little physical education in schools" are responsible for children's obesity, researchers caution that the "reasons are unknown, so answers are mainly speculation." Furthermore, national survey data "have created a puzzle" -- today's children do not report eating more than their counterparts in earlier decades did. However, researchers say that "it takes just a tiny energy imbalance -- a few more calories eaten than are burned -- for pounds to creep on." Because research has failed to prove that obesity treatment programs actually work and because of the cost of the treatment, most health plans "seldom" cover such care. Regardless, some "obesity experts" say that they are "so concerned about the future lives and health of fat children that they advocate treatment even when the treatment's success has not been documented." Dr. Claude Bouchard, director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, said, "I think it's better to do something, especially if it's based on sound nutritional advice and physical activity regimens" (Kolata, New York Times, 10/19).