On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control released a study of obesity rates among low-income preschool-aged (2–4 years old) children in 43 U.S. states and territories, all participants in the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System. Obesity is defined as a body mass index in the 95th percentile or above. MinnPost’s Susan Perry wrote about the findings, which were mostly positive: 19 states and territories showed small but statistically significant declines in childhood obesity rates over the period studied, from 2008–2011. Three states — Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee — saw increased odds of childhood obesity over the four years.
The CDC researchers visualized their findings in a pair of maps. The first showed which states had made gains, which states had setbacks, and states with no significant change in the odds of childhood obesity. The second showed the rate of childhood obesity for states in 2011, when the national average was 12.1%.
Looking at the first map, I was struck by the inclusion of Colorado — with its reputation for high levels of physical activity — among the states where childhood obesity had gotten worse. To see how the states stacked up in absolute terms over the past four years, I took data on obesity rates from the report and charted it. I highlighted the three states with increasing obesity odds in red, the three states with the biggest improvements in adjusted odds ratios in blue, and Minnesota in green.
Presented this way, it's easy to see that while Colorado did indeed see an increase in its rate of obese children, it still has, along with Hawaii, one of the lowest rates of low-income childhood obesity in the nation. And one of the biggest droppers, New Jersey, started at one of the highest levels, tied with Puerto Rico at 17.9%. Keep in mind though, these are raw percentages of obese children that do not control for factors like race and income (the report noted that childhood obesity is more prevalent among black and Hispanic youth, so states with higher proportions of those children in their samples might show higher overall rates of childhood obesity). Researchers used linear regression to control for factors like race in developing their Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR), which was the basis for the first map above. Controlling for race and other factors allowed researchers to isolate the effects of policies or specific conditions within a state/territory on the obesity rate.
You can examine the data yourself in the table below. The table includes absolute numbers and percentages of obese children in the sample for each state and territory in each of the four years studied, the AOR, the 95% confidence interval for the AOR, and whether the change represented by the AOR is statistically significant (this is why some states with AORs that are less than or more than 1 are listed as "No Change" in the first map). The table can be sorted by clicking on column headings, and searched using the form at right. You can also download a spreadsheet with the study's findings.
For more information about the study, including important caveats about the limitations of the findings, read the full report from the CDC [PDF].
|U.S. Virgin Islands||2,339||13.6||2,587||11.9||2,587||11.2||2,552||11||0.92||(0.87–0.97)||x|