U.S. teens are more likely to be overweight than are teens from 14 other industrialized nations, according to survey information collected in 1997 and 1998 by two agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services as well as institutions in 13 European countries and in Israel. The study appears in the January issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
HHS authors of the study were Mary Overpeck, Dr.P.H., of the Health Resources and Services Administration and Mary Hediger, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health.
"Overweight adolescents have an increased likelihood of being overweight during adulthood, and adult overweight increases the risk for such health problems as heart disease and diabetes," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD.
The researchers relied on a measure known as body mass index (BMI) to gauge obesity. In the study, the researchers calculated BMI by dividing the children's weight in kilograms by the square of his or her height in meters. For children and adolescents, a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for their age is considered to be overweight. A BMI from the 85th to the 94th percentile for their age is considered to be at risk for being overweight.
In the study, headed by Inge Lissau, Ph.D. from Denmark, the researchers tabulated the BMIs of 29,242 children 13 and 15 years of age. The children were from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Flemish Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Ireland, Israel, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States. The children's BMIs were based on self-reported heights and weights collected from surveys the children answered in school.
Children from the United States were the most likely to be overweight. Among 13-year-old boys in the U.S., 12.6 percent were overweight. Among 13-year-old girls, 10.8 percent were overweight. For U.S. 15 year olds, 13.9 percent of boys were overweight, and 15.1 percent of girls were overweight.
Among the other countries taking part in the study, Greece had the next highest proportion of overweight 13-year-old boys, at 8.9 percent, followed by Ireland, at 7 percent. Portugal had the next highest proportion of overweight 13-year-old girls, at 8.3 percent, followed by Ireland, at 6.6 percent.
After the U.S., Greece had the next highest proportion of overweight 15-year-old boys, at 10.8 percent, followed by Israel, at 6.8 percent. For 15-year-old girls, Portugal had the next highest proportion of overweight, at 6.7 percent, followed by Denmark, at 6.5 percent.
Of all the countries that took part in the study, Lithuania had the lowest proportion of overweight, at 1.8 percent in 13-year-old boys, 2.6 percent in 13-year-old girls, .08 percent in 15-year-old boys, and 2.1 percent in 15-year-old girls.
"Since most obese adolescents remain obese as adults, this age group is a very important group to reach through preventive programs addressing issues of diet and sedentary lifestyles," the study authors wrote.
The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD publications, as well as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD Web site, http://www.nichd.nih.gov, or from the NICHD Information Resource Center, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail NICHDInformationResourceCenter@mail.nih.gov.