McDonald's Happy meal

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The proportion of American kids suffering from obesity has more than doubled since 1980, but obesity rates appear to have plateaued recently and maybe even started to decline.

The saddest and most troubling category of overweight American child, however, continues to expand: the extremely obese.

There’s no hard-and-fast definition for “extreme obesity.” But in a paper published Monday by the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation, researchers propose a standard measure — and warn that one out of every 20 American kids meets it.

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(The proposed definition is a technical mouthful, but we’ll quote it for those with an interest in such things: “Having a [body mass index] ≥120% of the 95th percentile or an absolute BMI ≥35 kg/m2, whichever is lower based on age and sex.”)

Not only are 4 to 6 percent of American kids extremely obese, but the researchers say that percentage is rising. Black, Hispanic, and poor children are the worst affected.

Severely obese kids face even more serious health dangers than do their merely obese peers. From the American Heart Association’s blog:

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“Severe obesity in young people has grave health consequences,” said Aaron Kelly, Ph.D., lead author of the statement and a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis. “It’s a much more serious childhood disease than obesity.” …

Severely obese children have higher rates of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues at younger ages, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and early signs of atherosclerosis — the disease process that clogs arteries.

Treatment options for children with this level of obesity are limited, as most standard approaches to weight loss are insufficient for them.

Mighty depressing. And appalling concoctions like spaghetti ice cream aren’t going to help matters.

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