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October 15, 2019

Pennsylvania youth rank among the most obese in the country

Childhood obesity rates mostly remain stagnant across the U.S., report finds

Pennsylvania has the ninth highest childhood obesity rate in the United States according to a report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. New Jersey ranks No. 22.

The national obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 was 15.3 percent, according to the report, which relied on data from the 2017-2018 National Survey of Children's Health. That was a slight decrease from 2016, when the rate stood at 16.1 percent.

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey had rates close to the national figure. Pennsylvania's youth obesity rate was 17.4 percent, though it dropped to 13.7 percent among high school students. In New Jersey, the youth obesity rate was 15 percent. Data on New Jersey's high school students was not provided.

Neither the local rates nor the national rate have changed dramatically in last few decades, according to the analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Childhood obesity rates remain stubbornly and historically high, putting millions of young people at greater risk for serious health conditions,” the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's report stated.

Across the country, Mississippi had the highest obesity rate, at 25%, while Utah had the lowest at 8.7%. Only three states had obesity rates deemed statistically significantly higher than the national rate. Another six had obesity rates considered statistically significantly lower. 

Obesity rates for black (22.2%) and Hispanic (19.0%) youth continue to be higher than those of white (11.8%) and Asian (7.3%) youths.

A number of health conditions are tied to obesity, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma and some types of cancer. According to the report, childhood obesity costs the United States about $14 billion per year in direct health expenses.

Better access to healthy foods is a crucial part of combating the obesity epidemic, according to The Food Trust. That includes not only living closer to grocery stores and farmer’s markets that offer healthier options, but also having the money to afford such food.

To that end, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recommended several policy changes to help improve access to healthier foods. They included:

• Any changes to the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program’s food package should have a scientific basis.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture should reconsider proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would restrict the eligibility and level of benefits for participants in the program, many of whom are families with children.

• The USDA also should do more to support schools in providing nutritious meals and snacks for all of students. It should expand its community eligibility provisions, which allow students living in areas affected by poverty to receive free meals.

Read the full report here

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