Two Recent Childhood Obesity Studies in the Spotlight

We’ve been focusing recently on advertising to kids and the GLP-1 weight-loss drugs in the news, but what’s going on in the world of childhood obesity research? Most notably, two recent studies reveal the worsening of severe childhood obesity and cast doubt on one of the AAP-recommended guidelines. Let’s take a look.

A WIC study shows an obesity rate rebound to 2020

Last December, Fortune reported that a recent study published in Pediatrics indicates that severe obesity is becoming more common among young children in the United States. While previous research had shown a slight decrease in obesity rates among children enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the latest update reveals a rebound in obesity rates by 2020.

The study examined children aged 2 to 4 enrolled in the WIC program, finding that the rate of severe obesity had initially decreased from 2.1% in 2010 to 1.8% in 2016, but then rose to 2% by 2020. This increase was observed across various states and racial/ethnic groups, with notable rises among Hispanic children. While the exact reasons for the increase are unclear, some speculate that changes in policy, such as the elimination of the expanded child tax credit, and economic hardships faced by low-income families may have contributed.

The study’s findings are significant despite some challenges faced by the researchers, such as declining enrollment in WIC over the past decade and incomplete data due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As was the case with similar studies, further research is needed to understand the ongoing trends in childhood obesity, especially in light of the potential impacts of the pandemic.

This AAP guideline doesn’t seem to work, study finds

Another study reveals there’s no proven benefit to the AAP-recommended motivational interviewing method. A recent study, also published in Pediatrics, found that Motivational Interviewing (MI), a weight loss intervention recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), did not effectively reduce childhood obesity. MI is a patient-centered communication style recommended by the AAP to address various health behaviors, including nutrition and physical activity.

The study randomly assigned 18 pediatric primary care practices to either use the MI intervention or provide usual care for childhood obesity. The intervention included counseling sessions by pediatric clinicians and registered dietitians, text message reminders, and a study portal for parents and healthcare providers. However, results showed that children in the intervention group actually gained more weight compared to those receiving usual care.

The researchers suggested that methodological and cultural factors, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, might have contributed to the lack of improvement. Laura Rolke, Ph.D., and Michelle J. White, M.D., MPH, both of the Duke University School of Medicine, commented that the study reflected the “urgent need for child obesity interventions that target the structural factors which contribute to child obesity including socioeconomic, built environment and food policies.”

They also said:

Although pandemics are (we hope) rare, the social, environmental, and economic factors that lead to child obesity are ubiquitous… Interventions focused on individual or family behavior change alone are unlikely to overcome them. Moreover, such interventions may place too much onus on the caregiver to initiate and maintain behavior change against a powerful current of adverse factors.

The study authors recommended reconfiguring the intervention model, possibly by involving healthcare professionals trained in behavioral change counseling and motivation more extensively. They wrote:

The required dose to achieve weight effects may be unattainable in our current health care delivery system… Further, the use of dietitians and pediatricians may need to be reconsidered. It may be beneficial to include other health care professionals who are primarily trained in behavioral change counseling and motivation, perhaps providing them with nutrition counseling skills or perhaps engaging dieticians only once or twice during the intervention.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study findings cast doubt on childhood obesity intervention,”, 1/29/24
Source: “Severe obesity increasing among young American children, new study confirms,”, 12/18/23
Image by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources