PRINCETON, N.J. — In Indiana, 15.6 percent of youth ages 10-17 have obesity, the twenty-fourth highest rate in the nation, according to the newest available data released today. The national obesity rate for this age group is 16.2 percent, meaning roughly one in six youth have obesity.
The national data reveal sharp disparities, with the highest obesity rates among youth of color and youth from households with low incomes. They are included in a new report released today from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, From Crisis to Opportunity: Reforming Our Nation’s Policies to Help All Children Grow Up Healthy. The report, available at www.stateofchildhoodobesity.org, includes the latest data on childhood obesity rates and offers policy recommendations for prioritizing health and equity.
The national and state-by-state obesity rates among 10- to 17-year-olds come from the 2019-2020 National Survey of Children’s Health, along with analysis conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. They show the national childhood obesity rate has held steady for the last five years but more data are needed to examine effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other more recent data support a surge in rates during the COVID-19 pandemic particularly among younger children. National data from electronic medical records show an increase in childhood obesity rates from August 2019 to August 2020. In Philadelphia, existing disparities in obesity rates seem to be worsening, with rates rising more for Hispanic and Black children, and those in families with low incomes, than for white children or those in families with higher incomes.
“The state of childhood obesity in America is an urgent call to action for leaders at all levels and across all sectors,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who leads the Foundation’s efforts to prevent childhood obesity. “Obesity is a symptom of deep-rooted challenges that have only been made worse by the pandemic and are a warning sign that our nation’s policies are failing our kids. We must make real, systemic change to set kids on a path to better health.”
In the new report, RWJF cites the impact of structural racism on the health of children and families. Racist policies and discriminatory practices affect our food system, access to healthcare, affordable housing, and critical family supports like childcare. Together, the effects of these policies and practices often force families to make hard choices on how to spend limited resources.
“The COVID pandemic has worsened risk factors for childhood obesity, causing already high obesity rates to increase,” said Sandra G. Hassink, M.D., M.S. FAAP, medical director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. “Economic stressors, food insecurity, less consistent access to healthy meals at school, combined with increased sedentary time, sleep dysregulation, reduced physical activity, and social isolation have made it harder for families to stay healthy. This challenge is compounded by the fact that many of the consequences of obesity — including breathing problems, high blood pressure and diabetes — increase the risks of serious COVID-19 disease. As we look out now and beyond the pandemic, we must create environments that support children and families in sustaining healthy lifestyles.”