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Childhood obesity at record levels in US and Canada: study

Children line up to play in a game of kickball during a program in Dallas to help families with overweight children get healthier in this March 2007 file photo.
Children line up to play in a game of kickball during a program in Dallas to help families with overweight children get healthier in this March 2007 file photo. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

TORONTO — Rates of childhood obesity are at peak levels in the United States and Canada, though they have largely plateaued in the last decade.

A new study comparing data from both sides of the border found that childhood obesity rates are higher in the U.S. than in Canada.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used information from the late 1970s, the early 2000s and data from recent years. It found that while rates have gone up significantly in both countries since the 1970s, the prevalence of the condition in the United States has steadily outpaced Canada.

Comparing the most current data to numbers from the early-to-mid 2000s showed only a slight increase in childhood obesity rates in both countries.

READ MORE: Is obesity an illness? U.S. medical association recognizes condition as official disease

In the late 1970s obesity rates for children and adolescents, ranging in age from three to 19, in both countries hovered around five per cent. Those numbers have shot up to around 13 per cent in Canada and 17.5 per cent in the U.S. in recent years.

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A child is considered obese when they are in the gender-specific 95th percentile of Body Mass Index (BMI) for children their age.

Children who are obese are more at risk of becoming obese adults. The study states obese children “can experience immediate health consequences such as psycho-social stress, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and abnormal glucose tolerance.”

READ MORE: Obesity rates have tripled in Canada in less than 3 decades

About one-quarter of Canadian adults are obese, compared to one-third of American adults. The report indicated that the prevalence of adult obesity has also greatly increased in both countries in the last few decades.

Obesity rates for children aged three to six was the same, regardless of gender, in both countries. From the ages of seven to 19 years, rates of obesity were lower for girls in Canada than in the U.S., sitting at 10.4 per cent for Canadian girls and youth versus 16.7 per cent in the U.S.

Data for boys showed a smaller discrepancy.

There have been measures taken in both countries in recent years to combat obesity.

The Public Health Agency of Canada states on its website that the country is “facing an obesity epidemic” with one in four children and youth considered overweight or obese. The page outlines “efforts to promote healthy weights” by Canada’s health ministers.

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“Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments are committed to working together and with other sectors to promote healthy living, reduce overweight and obesity and help our children and youth have the healthiest possible start in life. Everyone has a role to play.”

The Child and Adult Care Food Program, which provides funding for snacks and meals for millions of kids in the U.S. every day, is looking at new diet guidelines with more vegetables and less sugar.

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama has also been leading a charge during the last few years, encouraging Americans to be more active and and eat healthier. Her Let’s Move! initiative is “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and are able to pursue their dreams.”