To examine the prevalence and trends in severe obesity among 16.6 million children aged 2 to 4 years enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from 2010 to 2020.


Severe obesity was defined as a sex-specific BMI for age ≥120% of the 95th percentile on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts or BMI ≥35 kg/m2. Joinpoint regression was used to identify when changes occurred in the overall trend. Logistic regression was used to compute the adjusted prevalence differences between years controlling for sex, age, and race and ethnicity.


The prevalence of severe obesity significantly decreased from 2.1% in 2010 to 1.8% in 2016 and then increased to 2.0% in 2020. From 2010 to 2016, the prevalence decreased significantly among all sociodemographic subgroups except for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children. The largest decreases were among 4-year-olds, Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic children, and children from higher-income households. However, from 2016 to 2020, the prevalence increased significantly overall and among sociodemographic subgroups, except for AI/AN and non-Hispanic white children. The largest increases occurred in 4-year-olds and Hispanic children. Among 56 WIC agencies, the prevalence significantly declined in 17 agencies, and 1 agency (Mississippi) showed a significant increase from 2010 to 2016. In contrast, 21 agencies had significant increases, and only Alaska had a significant decrease from 2016 to 2020.


Although severe obesity prevalence in toddlers declined from 2010 to 2016, recent trends are upward. Early identification and access to evidence-based family healthy weight programs for at-risk children can support families and child health.

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