Study: Community factors lead to some kids being disproportionately affected by obesity

The pandemic is making it more difficult for some families to access or afford healthy foods, and that’s ringing alarm bells for advocates concerned about childhood obesity.

“Looking at kids between the ages of 10 and 17, one in seven, or approximately 15%, have obesity,” said Jamie Bussel, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The group’s State of Childhood Obesity: Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic is based on the newest data from the combined 2018-19 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), along with analysis conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

“We continue to see stark and deep disparities across race and income,” Bussel said of this latest report.

Children from lower income families are twice as likely to have obesity compared to kids from more affluent families.

“Kids of color — African American, Latino and Native American kids are much more overburdened by the childhood obesity epidemic as compared with their white and Asian counterparts,” Bussel said.

  • In Maryland, 17.6% of young people ages 10 to 17 have obesity, the 10th-highest rate in the nation.
  • In Virginia, 13% of young people ages 10 to 17 have obesity, the 35th-highest rate in the nation.
  • In D.C., 12.5% of young people 10 to 17 have obesity, the 38th-highest rate in the nation.

While it matters what happens in specific homes, what actions parents take and what examples they model, Bussel said families shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility alone.

“Obesity is impacted by so many factors,” she noted. “Do families have a stable income? Do they have a safe place to live? Do they have reliable transportation? Do they have health insurance? Do they have access to high-quality affordable health care?”

Bussel said strong political will is needed to change systems and policies that have allowed poor and minority children to disproportionately experience obesity.

“The choices people make are very much based on the choices people have,” she said.

“The real need is to focus on policies and systems and investing in strategies that prioritize health, prioritize equity especially in the communities that have historically been marginalized so long.”

Bussel believes everyone has a role to play in something that could shape the nation’s next generation.

“Every child in this country, no matter who they are, where they live, the color of their skin, how much money mom and dad make — none of that should matter,” Bussel said. “Every child should have a fair and just opportunity to live the best, healthiest life possible.”

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