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Recent trends in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among Canadian children [Research]

Background:

Previous studies have shown an increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among Canadian children from 23.3% to 34.7% during 1978–2004. We examined the most recent trends by applying current definitions of overweight and obesity based on World Health Organization (WHO) body mass index (BMI) thresholds and recently validated norms for waist circumference and waist:height ratio.

Methods:

We examined directly measured height and weight data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (2004–2005) and the Canadian Health Measures Survey (2009–2013). We calculated z scores for BMI, height and weight based on the 2014 WHO growth charts for Canada, including the new extension of weight-for-age beyond 10 years. To calculate z scores for waist circumference and waist:height ratios, we used new charts from the reference population in the US NHANES III (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994).

Results:

Data were available for 14 014 children aged 3–19 years for the period 2004–2013. We observed a decline in the prevalence of overweight or obesity, from 30.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 29.7% to 31.6%) to 27.0% (95% CI 25.3% to 28.7%) (p < 0.001) and stabilization in the prevalence of obesity at about 13%. These trends persisted after we adjusted for age, sex and race/ethnicity. Although they declined, the median z scores for BMI, weight and height were positive and higher than those in the WHO reference population. The z scores for waist circumference and waist:height ratio were negative, which indicated that the Canadian children had less central adiposity than American children in historic or contemporary NHANES cohorts.

Interpretation:

After a period of dramatic growth, BMI z scores and the prevalence of overweight or obesity among Canadian children decreased from 2004 to 2013, which attests to progress against this important public health challenge.

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