Scientists Changing Standards So Black Kids Seem Less Obese

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

A United Kingdom (U.K.) government-funded study calls for adjusting a measurement used to determine obesity to correct for differences across ethnic groups.

The race-based adjustments lower the Body Mass Index (BMI) for children of African descent, making them seem thinner, while raising the BMI of children of South Asian descent. Scientists studied children of various ethnic groups between the ages of 4 and 12, and developed a race-based technique to “adjust” BMI definitions to ethnicity.

The new adjustments mean black children are less likely to be classified as overweight or obese than a white or Asian child with the same BMI. The researchers urge the adoption of these new altered standards for the entire U.K, as they “reflect body fat more accurately.”

“Childhood obesity is a major public health challenge in the UK, and this research will give healthcare professionals extra help in making accurate judgements when deciding whether children, particularly of South Asian or Black African origin, are underweight, normal, overweight or very overweight (obese),” Mohammed Hudda, a researcher at University of London, said in a press statement.

The research was directly financed by the British National Institute for Health Research, which is a taxpayer-funded government agency.

In the U.S., more than 75 percent of African American adults are overweight or obese, making them almost 1.5 times more likely to be obese than white adults.

This ethnic disparity is particularly profound among children. A long-running study conducted between 1999 and 2012 found that 35.1 percent of African American children ages 2 to 19 were overweight, compared with 28 percent of white children. Roughly 20 percent of African American kids are obese compared with 14 percent of white children.

Duke University study found that the percentage of overweight and obese children in the U.S. has increased across the board since 1999. The study also found that in the 1999-2000 school year, 27.5 percent of all children between two and 19 years old were considered overweight, a figure which increased to 31.8 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, and 33.2 percent in the 2013-2014 cohort.

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