A Michigan State University study found that between 1997 and 2000, obesity was identified in fewer than 1 percent of children visiting a doctor's office or an urgent care center.
That's despite the fact that about 15 percent of American children aged 6 to 19, and almost 11 percent of preschool children, are considered obese. A child is defined as obese when her body mass index (BMI) is at the 95th percentile or above.
The study also found that only about 7 percent of obese children actually received a diagnosis of obesity. It also revealed that almost 20 percent of the children diagnosed as obese were younger than 5.
The findings were presented at the recent annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.
For their study, the researchers analyzed more than 45,000 ambulatory care visits by children aged 17 and under between 1997 and 2000. The data was provided by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Lack of time was the main reason that doctors and other health providers failed to diagnosis obesity in children, the researchers say.
"To address obesity in the office setting takes a little more time. In addition, we found that if a child was obese, the visit took longer than if the child was not," researcher Ihuoma U. Eneli, an assistant professor of pediatrics and human development, says in a news release.
Childhood obesity can lead to a number of health problems such as diabetes. And children who are obese tend to grow into obese adults. That's why it's important that obesity be diagnosed as early as possible.
Here's where you can learn more about childhood obesity.