It’s been more than six years since Michelle Obama kicked off her “Let’s Move!” initiative to fight against childhood obesity, and children are as overweight as ever before.
That’s according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Obesity. A team led by Duke University scientist Asheley Skinner studied data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found that the percentage of overweight and obese children between 2 and 19 years old has increased across the board since 1999.
That comes as bad news for the Obama administration, which has sought to force children to eat healthier foods and exercise more through the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and the Task Force on Childhood Obesity.
According to the new study, in 1999-2000 (NHANES’ surveys are conducted in 2-year cycles), 27.5 percent of all youth between 2 and 19 years old were considered overweight. That increased to 31.8 percent in the 2011-2012 study and 33.2 percent in the 2013-2014 cohort.
The ratio of children who are obese has also increased in that period. In 1999-2000, 14.6 percent of children were considered Class I obese. That increased to 17.2 percent in 2011-2012 and remained the same during the most recent cycle. The ratio of obese children — those in the Class III category — increased from 0.9 percent in 1999-2000 to 2.5 percent in 2013-2014.
“There is no evidence of a change in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue,” the study’s authors concluded.
Skinner, the lead author of the study, said that it is difficult to know if policy efforts — such as Obama’s “Let’s Move!” — have helped lower the obesity rate from what it otherwise would have been. But she also said that if the goal of such policy efforts is to lower the obesity rates in absolute terms, they aren’t working.
“If we assume that our goal out of policy is to reduce the prevalence, that’s a goal we’re not meeting,” Skinner said in a statement.
The White House has been silent on the study, which is in stark contrast to its response to one released in Feb. 2014 which found a large decrease in obesity rates for children between 2 and 5 years old.
That study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that obesity rates for that age group fell from 13.9 percent in 2003-2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012.
Even though obesity rates remained stagnant for older children — and increased for adults — the CDC focused its public relations effort on the decrease in rates for young children. Its press release included a quote from Michelle Obama, who gave a shout-out to “Let’s Move!” The study’s lead author also corresponded with a New York Times reporter who penned a glowing article with the title “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade.”
The first lady was also quoted in that piece, leaving the impression that her initiative had something to do with making children skinnier.
But many CDC scientists were skeptical of linking that decrease to “Let’s Move!” or any other government initiative.
A Daily Caller investigation revealed that the White House put pressure on CDC officials to spin the press release to focus on the one glimmer of hope in that study. Emails obtained by TheDC for its investigation showed that CDC scientists felt the study’s findings were tenuous but that the upcoming 4th anniversary of “Let’s Move!” was “driving the [White House] interest” in the study. (RELATED: Emails Show White House Pressured Health Agencies To Highlight ‘Tenuous’ Childhood Obesity Research)
The new study shows that the ratio of overweight and obese children between 2 and 5 years old is back on the rise. In 1999-2000, 20.4 percent were deemed overweight. That rose to 21.8 percent in 2011-2012 and 24.7 percent in 2013-2014.
The ratio of obese young children has also increased. In 1999-2000, 13.6 percent were considered obese. Only 9.1 percent were found to be obese in the 2011-2012 survey. That rose to 12.8 percent in the latest study.