Childhood obesity varies by geographic region

by Eric Schroeder
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ROCKVILLE, MD. — The prevalence of childhood obesity varies substantially from state to state, with Oregon having the lowest prevalence and Mississippi having the highest prevalence, according to a study published May 3 on the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine web site.

The study, which will appear in the July print issue of the magazine, examined National Survey of Children’s Health data for 2003 and 2007. A total of 46,707 and 44,101 children aged 10 to 17 years in 2003 and 2007, respectively, participated in the study.

In 2007, 16.4% of U.S. children were found to be obese and 31.6% were overweight. This compared with 14.8% and 30.6%, respectively, in 2003.

The prevalence of obesity in 2007 varied from Mississippi, which had the highest rate of obesity at 21.9%, to Oregon, which had the lowest rate at 9.6%. Mississippi also had the highest rate of children who were overweight, at 44.5%, while Utah had the lowest rate, at 23.1%. In 2003, Washington, D.C., had the highest rate of obesity at 22.8%, while Utah had the lowest rate, at 8.5%. Washington, D.C., also had the highest rate of children who were overweight in 2003, at 39.6%, while Wyoming had the lowest rate, at 22.9%.

“Between 2003 and 2007, obesity prevalence increased by 10% for all U.S. children and by 18% for female children, declined by 32% for children in Oregon, and doubled among female children in Arizona and Kansas,” wrote the authors, who were led by Gopal Singh, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. “Children in Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Georgia, and Kansas had more than twice the adjusted odds of being obese than children in Oregon. Individual, household, and neighborhood social and built environmental characteristics accounted for 45% and 42% of the state variance in childhood obesity and overweight, respectively.”

The findings on childhood obesity are similar to those that have been found among the adult population.
In July 2009, the Trust for America’s Health published “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America 2009,” which showed the rate of adult obesity exceeds 25% in 31 states, and 20% in 49 states (see Food Business News of July 7, 2009, Page 11).

Similar to the most recent findings, Mississippi had the highest obesity rates in the Trust for America’s Health report as well, with 32.5% of adults considered obese.

The fact geographic patterns in U.S. childhood obesity are similar to those observed for the broader U.S. adult population give some hope that obesity levels may be lowered, the authors noted.

“Marked geographic disparities shown here indicate the potential for considerable reduction in childhood obesity,” the authors wrote. “However, such disparities, if they continue to rise, would have profoundly adverse implications for any future efforts to reduce health inequalities among children and adults. Prevention programs for reducing disparities in childhood obesity should not only include behavioral interventions aimed at reducing children’s physical inactivity levels and limiting their television viewing and recreational screen time, but should also include social policy measures aimed at improving the broader social and physical environments that create obesogenic conditions that put children at risk for poor diet, physical inactivity, and other sedentary activities.”
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