Youth obesity rate stays at 15.8 percent
Nationwide, 15.8 percent of young people ages 10 to 17 have obesity, according to the newest national data released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Mississippi has the highest youth obesity rate, at 26.1 percent, while Utah has the lowest, at 8.7 percent.
The data and analysis come from the 2016 and 2017 National Survey of Children’s Health, along with analysis conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
Comparing the combined 2016-17 data to 2016 alone, only one state, North Dakota, had a statistically significant change in its obesity rate, which dropped from 15.8 percent to 12.5 percent.
The new data show that racial and ethnic disparities persist. For instance, black youth had nearly double the rate (22.5 percent) as white youth did (12.5 percent). The rate for Hispanic youth falls between those two, at 20.6 percent, and Asian youth have the lowest rate, at just 6.4 percent.
“Childhood obesity continues to be a major public health challenge, with significant financial and societal implications,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Far too many young people in this country are facing increased chances of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, all due to a preventable condition. And black and Latino youth are still more likely than their white peers to face these problems. We must help all children grow up at a healthy weight, so they can lead healthy lives, and save the nation billions in healthcare costs.”
Scientists predict that more than half of today’s children will be obese by age 35 if current trends continue, RWJF said. To help prevent that scenario, RWJF urges policymakers at all levels to prioritize obesity prevention and help all children have a healthier future.
Specific recommendations include:
▪ Congress and the administration should maintain and strengthen essential nutrition supports for low-income children, families, and individuals through programs — such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) — and expand programs and pilots to make healthy foods more available and affordable through the program.
▪ The Agriculture Department should maintain nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect prior to USDA’s interim final rule from November 2017, as well as current nutrition standards for school snacks.
▪ The Education Department should maintain the Office of Safe and Healthy Schools, as well as Title I and Title IV programs under the Every Students Succeeds Act, through which schools can receive funding for physical education and physical activity initiatives.
▪ States should ensure that all students receive at least 60 minutes of physical education or activity during each school day.
▪ States should follow expert guidance and adopt and implement best practices — including by investment in quality rating and improvement systems — for nutrition, activity and screen time requirements and regulations covering child care and day care settings.
▪ States should support access for low-income families to targeted home visiting and community-based programs that provide families with resources and connections to parenting education, nutrition programs and other services.
▪ States and localities should ensure all restaurant meals marketed to children meet nutrition standards, and remove sugary drinks from all restaurant children’s meals.
▪ Food and beverage companies should eliminate children’s exposure to advertising and marketing of unhealthy products.
▪ States should refrain from adopting preemption policies that limit the ability of local communities to improve the health of their residents.