While it appears the rate of obesity among children has leveled off, the American Heart Association is reporting that the number of kids who are "severely obese" continues to rise.
Published on Monday in Circulation, the AHA announced the newly defined class of severely obese U.S. children and teens – about 5 percent of this demographic.
"We are defining a new class of pediatric obesity called 'severe' obesity," lead researcher Aaron Kelly, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, told Health Day.
Different from children that are just overweight, Kelly called this type of obesity “an extreme form.”
Scientifically speaking, a child is “severely obese” when they have a body mass index (BMI) that is 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age or a BMI of 35 or higher.
The BMI measures how healthy a person’s weight is in relation to their height. If a child is in the 95th percentile of the BMI index, they weigh more than 95 percent of other children the same sex and age.
As an example, Kelly illustrated that both a 7-year-old girl of average height who weighs 75 pounds and a 13-year-old boy of average height who weighs 160 pounds would both be considered severely obese.
The AHA released the statement in hopes of raising awareness about the "immediate and long-term health consequences" of being overweight.
"If you are a child or adolescent who is severely obese, the likelihood of you being an adult with morbid obesity is very high," Kelly added.
Kids that are severely obese are at a heightened risk for factors associated with heart disease, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
By defining severe obesity, the AHA hopes to raise awareness to the seriousness of this growing problem.
Aside from lifestyle changes, like a healthy diet and exercise, researchers say they recognize that for some children, this may not be enough. Experts say pediatricians need to figure out other options to combat the problem.
"We must do all we can to minimize the development of severe obesity in the first place," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.
"But for the large number of kids already in this plight, my hope is that we can validate and fund behavioral options that rely on skills, so that we may rely a bit less on scalpels."