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States & Communities Report Declining Childhood Obesity Rates



From our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation today released an updated collection of stories and reports from a growing number of states, cities and counties that have measured declines in their childhood obesity rates. The most recent reports come from a diverse set of areas, including, St. Cloud, Minnesota; Cherokee County, South Carolina; Seminole County, Florida; Southern California; Colorado; New Mexico; and Philadelphia. The latest declines vary by location and across age groups, but generally were measured since the mid-2000s and range from a 6.3 percent decline among K-12 students in Philadelphia to a 24 percent decline among 12 year-olds in St. Cloud. 

In total, there are reports from more than 30 locations, including from 18 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where measurements were taken among preschool children from low-income families enrolled in federal health and nutrition programs from 2008 to 2011. The places reporting declining rates have applied a wide range of strategies and implemented a number of policies to make healthy foods and beverages available in schools and communities and add physical activity into daily life. 

“These signs of progress confirm that we can make a difference, show us what’s working, and inspire new ideas,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “We cannot underestimate the work that remains to help all children grow up at a healthy weight, but we do know how to move the needle. It’s time to take that knowledge to scale. Our nation’s future depends on it.”

The latest additions to RWJF’s Signs of Progress feature include:

  • Cherokee County, South Carolina: The obesity and overweight rate fell from 43 percent in 2012 to 34.3 percent in 2015 among first grade students, a 20.2 percent relative decline. Among third graders, the obesity and overweight rate fell from 51.5 percent in 2012 to 40.7 percent in 2015, a 21 percent relative decline.
  • Colorado: The obesity and overweight rate fell from 22.9 percent in 2012 to 21.2 percent in 2015 among 2- to 4-year olds enrolled in the state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a 7.4 percent relative decline.  
  • New Mexico: The obesity and overweight rate fell from 30.3 percent in 2010 to 25.6 percent in 2015 among Kindergarten students in public schools, a 15.5 percent relative decline. Among the public school students in third grade, the obesity and overweight rate fell from 38.7 percent in 2010 to 34.4 percent in 2015, an 11.1 percent relative decline.
  • Philadelphia: The obesity rate fell from 21.7 percent in 2006-07 to 20.3 percent in 2012-13 among Philadelphia public school students in grades K-12, a 6.5 percent relative decline.
  • Seminole County, Florida: The obesity and overweight rate fell from 34.3 percent in 2006-07 to 29.6 percent in 2013-14 among students in grades 1, 3, and 6, a 13.7 percent relative decline.
  • Southern California: The obesity rate fell from 19.1 percent in 2008 to 17.5 percent in 2013 among Kaiser Permanente members ages 2 to 19, an 8.4 percent relative decline.
  • St. Cloud, Minnesota: The obesity and overweight rate fell from 17 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2015 among 12-year-olds, a 24 percent relative decline. 

While the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a decline in obesity rates among children ages 2 to 5 over the last decade, the issue remains a severe problem for the nation’s health and budget. Nearly one in three children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. The medical cost of adult obesity in the United States is estimated at $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year.

Childhood obesity disproportionately affects communities of color, and in communities with high levels of poverty, families often lack access to healthy foods and beverages and safe places to be physically active. In 2011-2014, the national obesity rate was 14.7 percent among white youth, 19.5 percent among black youth, and 21.9 percent among Hispanic youth. 

“Far too many families don’t have access to affordable healthy foods or safe places to play—this is especially true in poorer communities and communities of color,” said Lavizzo-Mourey. “The progress we’ve seen is not shared equally and that’s unacceptable. Our pressing challenge and priority moving forward is working to build an inclusive Culture of Health where all children have the opportunity to grow up at a healthy weight.”

In the coming weeks, Inside Track will feature stories from the locations reporting signs of progress.  Stay tuned!