Government researchers, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative survey taken every year, found that obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds had actually fallen between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. And not just by a little bit — over the period, the rate fell from 14 percent to 8 percent, marking a more than 40 percent drop.
It was a bold statement, rooted in emboldening data. But in retrospect, there was something off about the report, or the idea that we had really scored a major victory in the battle against obesity.
“The data they cited are perfectly accurate, but when you look at trends it matters where you start,” said Asheley Skinner, who is a scientist at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, a research arm of the Duke University School of Medicine. “This is a case where you can tell two pretty different stories, but only one of them is right.”
Skinner is the lead author of a new study published this month in the journal Obesity. The study used data from the same annual survey but reached a different conclusion. Despite a widespread belief, tied at least in part to the 2014 CDC report, that childhood obesity is trending downward, it argues that the opposite is true: Childhood obesity might not be growing quite as fast as it used to, but it’s still growing.
The significant decline previously reported … is not evident in our results, for girls or boys, when using all data from 1999 to 2014.