In fact, only three states — Utah (8.7 percent), New Hampshire (9.8 percent) and Washington (10.1 percent) — have lower rates than ours.
Minnesota’s rate is still part of an “alarming trajectory” described in the report, however. Like the national figure, it’s almost triple what it was four decades ago.
“Childhood obesity continues to be major public health challenge, with significant financial and societal implications,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a released statement. “Far too many young people in this country are facing increased chances of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, all due to a preventable condition.”
The foundation’s new report is based on combined 2016 and 2017 data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), which includes information from a representative sampling of children living in more than 534,000 households in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
For the survey, parents provide their child’s height and weight, which were then used to calculate each child’s body mass index (BMI). The BMIs enabled researchers to determine how many children meet the definition of obese (a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for their age).
The analysis of that data — which focused on children aged 10 to 17 — revealed that there was an almost threefold difference between the highest and lowest state childhood obesity rates, from Utah’s low of 8.7 percent to Mississippi’s high of 26.1 percent.
Mississippi had the only rate that was significantly higher than the national rate of 15.8, however. And eight states, including Minnesota, had rates significantly lower than the national average.
The data also revealed other important disparities. Boys were much more likely to be obese (18 percent) than girls (13.4 percent).
Racial and ethnic disparities were also found. Black youth had the highest rate of obesity (22.5 percent), followed by Hispanic youth (20.6 percent), white youth (12.5 percent) and Asian youth (6.4 percent).
“We must help all children grow up at a health weight so they can lead healthy lives, and save the nation billions in health care costs,” said Bussel.
What lawmakers need to do
As the report points out, researchers predict that if current obesity trends continue, more than half of today’s children will be obese by the time they reach their 35th birthday.
To stop this “alarming trajectory,” the report’s authors provide a list of recommendations for lawmakers and other policymakers, including the following:
- Strengthen healthy-food and nutritional programs for low-income families (and expand access to such programs).
- Make sure all students receive at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
- Restrict food and beverage companies — and restaurants — from marketing unhealthful foods to children.
In the current political environment, however, such recommendations are unlikely to take hold. Earlier this year, for example, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration proposed cuts to nutrition programs aimed at low-income families, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (also known as food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The White House has also weakened nutrition standards for school lunches and other meals.
FMI: You’ll find the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report on the organization’s website.