New Study Shows Recent Upward Swing in Severe Obesity Among Children in WIC

Despite years of progress, recent numbers show severe obesity among children from households with lower incomes is just as prevalent as it was a decade ago. The new study “Trends in Severe Obesity Among Children Aged 2–4 Years in WIC: 2010–2020” reveals an increase to 2.0% in 2020. The prevalence of severe obesity dropped from 2.1% in 2010 to 1.8% in 2016.

The study in the January 2024 edition of Pediatrics (published online Dec. 18) examines the 16.6 million children aged 2–4 years enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) during 2010–2020. The federal assistance program provides healthy foods, nutrition education, health care referrals, and other services to millions of low-income pregnant and postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to age 5, who are at nutritional risk.

The modest increase in severe obesity from 2016 to 2020 was among all age, sex, household income groups, and race and ethnicity groups except for American Indian and Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white children. Researchers also noted that 21 of 56 WIC agencies had a significant increase. Alaska was the lone state with a notable decrease in severe obesity prevalence between 2016 and 2020. Authors of the study say further assessment is needed to pinpoint specific reasons behind the increases.

The study underscores the need for ongoing monitoring of post-pandemic of children’s health status. It also further supports the need for children and families from households with lower incomes across the nation to have access to early clinical detection, such as healthcare screenings and referrals to effective family-based interventions to support healthy growth.