Obesity is a real problem for American children and it's only getting worse. With increasingly busy lives and the rising costs of groceries, parents know just how difficult it can be for kids to eat a balanced diet. Many children are eating meals on the go, between different lessons and sporting activities, while parents often struggle to afford to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, opting for lower-cost fast food alternatives.
A new report is showing that almost 5 million children in the United States between the ages of 10 and 17 were obese in 2017-2018, according to WebMD. That number amounts to just over 15% of the youth population. "These new data show that this challenge touches the lives of far too many children in this country," said Dr. Richard Besser, the president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which produced the new report.
.@RWJF is committed to reducing the rates of #childhoodobesity. We know it will require policy changes at every level of government, and we’re working with others to implement shifts that will make it easier for kids and their families to be healthy. https://t.co/xK5aQqoFrS— Rich Besser (@DrRichBesser) October 10, 2019
The report found that Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Michigan were the five states with the highest rates of youth obesity, while Utah, Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado, and Montana had the lowest rates. While the study showed that there was no notable change in rates for the 2017-2018 report versus the 2016 rates, it did note that there were disparities among youth based on race and ethnicity. "Black and Hispanic youth are still at greater risk than their white and Asian peers," Besser said in a news release.
Obesity is one symptom of larger, more systemic problems regarding health & equity in our society. Poverty, unstable & unsafe housing, schools & neighborhoods that don’t meet families' & children's needs—these are all conditions that influence health.https://t.co/HuCPa2NFK0 pic.twitter.com/F0ZdfQgP8J— Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (@RWJF) October 14, 2019
Household income also affects the childhood obesity rate. Every parent knows that eating healthy isn't cheap. More affordable but less healthy fast food options are often the choice many parents are forced to make. "These differences by race, ethnicity, and geography did not happen by chance," Besser stated. "They are a result of discriminatory policies and systems that have been in place for decades. However, we have the power to change these outcomes and make our nation a more equitable society. The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them."
The report contains numerous policy recommendations including "rescinding proposed changes to SNAP," the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps. They want continued support for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program as well as providing recommendations for schools. "USDA should expand guidance and technical assistance to support schools in meeting updated nutrition standards and managing new school kitchen equipment."
They are also targeting those who market to children, including recommending that restaurants remove sugary drinks and sodas from children's menus. "States and local education agencies should support and implement the provision that all food and beverage advertisements on school campuses meet Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines during the school day–expand to include all forms of marketing (brand)."
“By working together, we can build a nation that supports, sustains, and secures the well-being of all our children and their families,” Besser added.