Tracking headlines over the past year or so, it’s hard to know what to think about the status of childhood obesity. Last summer, it was revealed that in some pockets of California — Alameda and Contra Costa counties — the problem seems to have gotten totally out of hand. The information came from a study of schools in 250 cities, compiled by Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Policy Health Advocacy and Susan Babey of the UCLA Health Center for Policy Research.
Overall, they discovered that 38% of the included students were overweight or obese. But Huntington Park (a low-income city) had a shocking 53% rate, and the figures for Richmond and Oakland, also low-income areas, were 52% and 42% respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, the wealthy community of Manhattan Beach boasted the incredibly low student overweight/obese number of 11%. Writer Theresa Adams notes:
Among other efforts, Contra Costa and Alameda County are among the six Bay Area counties participating in the Rethink Your Drink Program, through which students are taught about the amount of sugar contained in various beverages and encouraged to drink more water.
Then, Connecticut’s Department of Public Health studied its state’s kindergarteners and third graders, and announced that about one-third of them are overweight to some degree, and about one child in seven qualifies as obese. Not surprisingly, the high-risk groups were identified as children in the Hispanic and black demographics, which often overlap with the low-income demographic, also high-risk. The Department’s Commissioner, Dr. Jewel Mullen, called the statistics “alarming.”
Then, the “Health Policy Snapshot on Childhood Obesity” was published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It said that overall, in California, the prevalence of overweight/obesity had declined. There was also good news from the state of Mississippi, and the cities of New York and Philadelphia. But, wrote Susan Kleiman of the University of North Carolina’s Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders:
Despite these promising developments, fighting childhood obesity remains an uphill battle, and the prevalence remains far too high even in places where recent declines have been seen. More than 20 percent of Philadelphia and New York City students are obese, and more than 37 percent in Mississippi and California are overweight/obese.
Toward the end of the year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced the results of their 12-year task of looking at data on 26.7 million children:
[…] compiled by the Pediatric Nutritional Surveillance System, which includes information on roughly half of all U.S. children who qualify for federal health care and nutritional assistance.
In other words, even though the number of subjects is huge, all the information comes from children whose parents’ economic situation was desperate enough to qualify the mothers for the WIC program. So there’s that.
In January, the journal Academic Pediatrics published the CDC research, but then something else happened to take things in the other direction, as described by David G. Sittenfeld:
First the good news: New data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the prevalence of obesity among young children may have begun to decline.
Now the bad news: The findings of a new and very large study by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities is raising serious concerns about obese kids and their ability to live through childhood without a myriad of mental and physical illnesses. The research looked at more than 43,000 kids ages 10 to 17 throughout America.
Sittenfeld notes that Dr. Neal Halfon, who directed the UCLA study, expressed concern over the many health conditions that affect obese children and teenagers, including ear infections, bone and joint problems, ADHD, dental problems, allergies, and asthma. The news that the rate of childhood obesity may be slowing is hopeful, but already, nearly 30% of America’s kids are overweight or obese.
The illustration: The people at visual.ly invite folks to download this infographic on childhood obesity.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Nearly half of students in Richmond and Oakland overweight, study finds,” RichmondConfidential.org, 06/28/12
Source: “Study shows obesity among Connecticut children,” StamfordPlus.com, 11/07/12
Source: “Is childhood obesity on the decline?,” UNCExchanges.org, 12/18/12
Source: “Childhood obesity rates show signs of decreasing in U.S.,” The Raw Story, 12/26/12
Source: “New study raises serious concerns about childhood obesity,” HLNtv.com, 01/31/13
Image by krblack.