A new study by American researchers has found that between 1988 and 2004 abdominal obesity increased more than 65 percent among boys and almost 70 percent among girls.
This revelation has raised serious concern because experts believe that abdominal obesity is a predictor of cardiovascular disease and a risk of type 2 diabetes.
It is now regarded as a more accurate indicator of disease risk than the more commonly used Body Mass Index (BMI), a weight to height ratio that can sometimes be misleading.
There are it seems two types of fat, cutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Cutaneous fat is found below the skin and is less dangerous for health than visceral fat which is located deep in the abdomen and surrounds vital organs.
Visceral fat is metabolized by the liver, turns into cholesterol and circulates in the bloodstream.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) otherwise known as bad cholesterol, forms plaques and builds up in the arteries, gradually blocking them.
Research has found that people who consume high quantities of saturated fats have a higher risk of building up undesirable amounts of visceral fat.
The research by Dr. Stephen Cook, M.D., an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center's Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong, is the first nationally representative study to document the increase in children's belly fat and serves to present a bleak picture for such children.
Heart disease, adult-onset diabetes and metabolic syndrome, are all far more common among those who are seriously overweight; however while adults face a tough battle eliminating the effects of atherosclerosis in their arteries, children and adolescents, can often reverse the effects through improved lifestyle and weight loss.
As a rule waist circumference is not a "vital sign" normally taken in a visit to the doctor and BMI is more commonly calculated.
But there are limitations to BMI measurements as a very muscular person may register a high BMI score, even if he is very healthy and has an average waist circumference.
Also a sedentary child may not register a very high BMI score, but if he carries a lot of fat around his middle, he may be at a higher risk for health problems than other children with the same BMI score.
According to Cook there is as yet no definitive standard for how waist circumference should be measured and no consensus yet on the cut-off point for abdominal obesity.
But he says the study should be a warning for physicians and parents to limit sedentary activities, such as TV and computer time, and to teach and model healthy eating and exercise behaviours as childhood obesity is a serious and growing problem.
According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2004, the percentage of 6- to 11 year-old children with high BMI scores rose about 25 percent (15.1 percent in 1999-2000 to 18.8 percent in 2003-04).
But the increase in abdominal obesity of the same group over the same period was even more dramatic, more than 35 percent (14.2 percent in 1999-2000 to 19.2 percent in 2003-04).
Cook says the increases only appear more alarming as specific age groups are identified over longer periods of time.
Between the 1988-1994 data and the 1999-2004 data, the largest relative increase in the prevalence of abdominal obesity occurred among 2- to 5-year old boys (84 percent) and 18- to 19-year-old girls (126 percent).
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.