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Increase in obesity rate among Minnesota's youth has slowed, report finds

Increase in obesity rate among Minnesota's youth has slowed
REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Seven states — Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia — had youth rates of overweight and obesity that exceeded 35 percent in 2016.

The obesity rate among Minnesota’s youth appears to be leveling off, according to new data released Tuesday.

In 2016, 27.7 percent of Minnesota’s 10- to 17-year-olds were overweight or obese, a rate only slightly higher than the 27.2 percent reported in 2011 — and well below the 2016 national average of 31.2 percent.

It was also below the rates in all four of our nearest neighboring states.

Still, Minnesota’s young people are significantly heavier than they were a decade ago. In 2007, 23.1 percent of our 10- to 17-year-olds had body mass indexes (BMI) that placed them in the overweight or obese categories.

So, although the Minnesota’s youth may not be getting any heavier, they aren’t getting any lighter, either.

The new data were released Tuesday as part of the State of Obesity report published annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America (and which I reported on here earlier this month). The youth data is being updated for the first time since 2011-2012. 

Minnesota vs other states

According to the State of Obesity report, Minnesota’s adult obesity rate in 2016 was 27.8 percent — the 34th highest among all states and the District of Columbia.

Our youth overweight-and-obesity rate of 27.7 percent resulted in a closely similar ranking: 35th.

Seven states — Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia — had youth rates of overweight and obesity that exceeded 35 percent in 2016. Only one state, Utah, had a rate under 20 percent (19.2 percent). 

North Dakota’s rate was 37.7 percent, which placed it second among the states. Minnesota’s other immediate neighbors were further down in the rankings: South Dakota (31.4 percent) was 23rd, Iowa (29.9 percent) was 30th and Wisconsin (29.5 percent) was 31st.

The State of Obesity
The State of Obesity

Serious consequences

Although it appears that youth obesity rates are stabilizing in many parts of the country, the fact that almost 1 in 3 young people in the United States — and more than 1 in 4 here in Minnesota — is overweight or obese remains a serious public health issue.

Children and teens who are obese are at increased risk for a range of diseases and medical conditions, including higher blood pressure and high cholesterol (which are risk factors for heart disease), type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea and joint problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, they are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.

Children and teenagers who are obese are also at greater risk of being obese as adults — and their obesity-related risk factors for disease are likely to be more severe.

“Obesity rates are still far too high,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, in an earlier statement released with the full report. “But the progress we’ve seen in recent years is real and it’s encouraging.”

“That progress could be easily undermined if leaders and policymakers at all levels don’t continue to prioritize efforts that help all American lead healthier lives,” he added.

His organization urges policymakers to take the following steps:

  • Invest in prevention at the federal, state and local levels, including full funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Prevention and Public Health Fund.
  • Prioritize early childhood policies and programs, including support for Head Start and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
  • Maintain progress on school-based policies and programs, including full implementation of current nutrition standards for school foods.
  • Invest in community-based policies and programs, including nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and transportation, housing, and community development policies and programs that support physical activity.
  • Fully implement menu labeling rules and the updated Nutrition Facts label.
  • Expand healthcare coverage and care, including continued Medicare and Medicaid coverage of the full range of obesity prevention, treatment, and management services. 

Getting those policies implemented within the current national political climate will be a challenge, however. The Trump administration has, for example, proposed significant funding cuts to both SNAP and the CDC, and has also eased nutrition standards for school lunches.

FMI: You can read the youth data from State of Obesity report online. The report includes an interactive map, which can lead you to state-by-state data. Minnesota’s data includes a list of key policies Minnesota has — or hasn’t — implemented to prevent obesity.

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