About 5 percent of U.S. children and teens are "severely obese" - a newly defined class of risk, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement published online in the journal Circulation.
"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."
While childhood obesity rates are starting to level off, severe obesity has increased, Kelly said.
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.
The statement defines children over age 2 as severely obese if they either have a body mass index (BMI) that's at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age, or a BMI score of 35 or higher. A child in the 95th percentile weighs more than 95 percent of other children of the same gender and age.
A 7-year-old girl of average height weighing 75 pounds, or a 13-year-old boy of average height weighing 160 pounds, would be defined as severely obese.