Child obesity in the US is still “unbelievably high”, a key consumer watchdog said today (29 May) after a government study claimed rates had reached a plateau.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), sounded a note of caution after the report said obesity rates in children and teens stabilised at 16% between 1999 and 2006.

“I am hopeful that we are beginning to see some levelling off of obesity rates but I don’t think we’ll know for many more years if this is a blip or a trend,” Wootan told just-food.

“At the same time, [the study] shows that obesity rates in kids are still unbelievably high, that around a third of children are either overweight or obese and [it] shows that we have a lot of work still to do to get childhood obesity rates down.”

The study, released yesterday (28 May) by the Centres for Disease Control and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was based on a survey of over 8,000 children aged between two and 19.

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The report was unable to pin down the causes for a stabilisation in the level of childhood obesity. Causes posited include efforts to increase awareness, such as public health campaigns, and the possibility that there has been a natural levelling off related to the proportion of the population with a genetic susceptibility to obesity.

Cynthia Ogden, the lead author of the report and an epidemiologist for the National Center for Health Statistics, commented: “It doesn’t mean we’ve solved it, but maybe there is some opportunity for some optimism here.”

Responding to the report, the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s chief scientist, Robert Brackett, said the food and beverage industry was “committed” to reducing obesity.

Brackett added: “We will continue to provide consumers with healthier options, market our products responsibly and invest in programs that promote healthy eating and more physical activity.”