Alabama has the fifth highest rate of childhood obesity, according to a new report
According to a report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is focused on health, the epidemic increased risk factors for childhood obesity, particularly among minority children and those living in the South.
All of the six states had children obesity rates significantly higher than the national average of 16.2 percent. The Appalachian and Southern states accounted for all of those states with childhood obesity levels significantly greater than 16.1 percent in the Apphachians and South. Kentucky had the highest obesity rate at 23 percent, followed by Mississippi (22.3 percent), Louisiana (22.2 percent) West Virginia (21.9 percent ), Alabama (21.8 percent); and Tennessee (20.8 percent). The study included data for children between the ages of 10 and 17.
The study includes data from 2019 and 2020, but it does not include all of the acute effects of epidemic. According to the researchers, obesity among children has increased since 2019. More recent statistics from electronic medical records and a Philadelphia study suggest that obesity rates among youngsters have increased in 2019.
The COVID epidemic has worsened risk factors for childhood obesity, causing already high obesity rates to rise, said Dr. Sandra G. Hassink, 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 disturbance, decreased physical activity, and social isolation have made it harder for families to stay healthy, says Cohen.
Obesity is also a risk factor for severe COVID-19, according to Hassink.
As we look ahead now and beyond the epidemic, we must create environments that assist children and families in maintaining healthy lifestyles, Hassink said.
Native American, Black, and Hispanic children are the most obese across the nation. Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the foundation, stated that the results demonstrate the effects of structural racism. The epidemic added stress to communities already suffering from poverty. According to the report, school closures have also restricted access to nutritious school meals and exercise.
Childhood obesity rates remain far too high, Bussel said. Children of color and those who live farthest from economic opportunity are at greatest risk, and the COVID epidemic seems to be worsening things.
Childhood obesity is a symptom of state and federal policies that harm children and families, according to Bussel. The report included a number of policy recommendations, including universal free school lunches, increased access to benefits for women and children, and expanding Medicaid.
The study used body mass index (BMI) to determine which children are overweight or obese. The rates are reported by parents as part of the National Survey for Childrens Health. A child with a BMI greater than the 95th percentile is considered obese.
Children with obesity have increased chances of becoming adults with obese. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are at increased risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and joint problems.
Bussel said that in some towns and states, there have been declines in childhood obesity in recent years. She added that policies to improve the food supply would help children and their families.
In the midst of this public health crisis around COVID and also obesity, I think its more important than ever that we all prioritize children health and help build a stronger foundation for the next generation, Bussel said.