Childhood obesity on the rise in Ohio; Probable culprit of the pandemic
OHIO – The coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of Ohioans in many ways. Now, the first evidence suggests the pandemic has likely contributed to an increase in childhood obesity as well, according to a new report.
Nationwide obesity rate among children aged 2 to 19 fell from 19.3% in 2019 to 22.4% in 2020, according to the 2021 State of Childhood Obesity report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Among children aged 10 to 17, just over 16 percent were considered obese.
The report also found that children of color were affected at disproportionate rates. Just under 24% of black children between the ages of 10 and 17 were considered obese, as were 21.4% of Hispanic children.
Meanwhile, the percentage of white children struggling with obesity was considerably lower – around 12.1%.
To determine the childhood obesity rate for 2020, researchers looked at the latest available data from the National Children’s Health Survey. Data was collected from June 2020 to January 2021.
In Ohio, the 2019-20 obesity rate for children aged 10 to 17 was 17.2%, a figure that has been trending upward in recent years, according to the report. For example, the 2018-2019 childhood obesity rate in our state was 15.7%.
Here’s a look at the state of obesity in Ohio in 2020:
- Children 2-4 years participating in the WIC Supplemental Nutrition Program: 12.6%
- High school students considered obese: 16.8%
- Adults considered obese: 35.5%
- Adults with diabetes: 12%
- Hypertensive adults: 34.5%
Here is also an overview of other data on child nutrition in our state:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries: 1,365,936 Ohio residents
- Children aged 10 to 17 on SNAP: 579,000
- White children aged 10 to 17 on SNAP: 67.3%
- Black children aged 10 to 17 on SNAP: 29.4%
- Hispanic children aged 10 to 7 on SNAP: 0.2%
- Students eligible for free and reduced price lunch: 958,164
According to the authors of the report, the national outbreak of childhood obesity can likely be attributed to the pandemic, which resulted in increased food insecurity – or the inability to obtain healthy food – during the pandemic.
The pandemic also disrupted the food supply chain and drastically changed what was available in stores. Finally, the loss of jobs meant a loss of income, forcing parents to change their purchasing habits and increasingly turn to non-perishable foods.
Structural racism also played a role.
“We also know that racist policies and discriminatory practices put children of color, as well as children and families who live furthest from economic opportunity, at high risk for obesity,” said researcher Jamie Bussell in The report. “These challenges are deeply rooted, systemic and interconnected, but they are not insoluble.”
Children who struggle with obesity are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious health problems, according to the report. The authors call for policy reform to tackle what they say is a growing problem.
Among the proposed policy changes: strengthening federal programs such as WIC, SNAP and school meals. Other proposals include increasing children’s access to healthy food – a “basic human right”, according to the report’s authors – as well as prioritizing the creation of a more sustainable food system.
“To build a healthier nation for the next generation, we must work to dismantle structural racism and reform our policies,” the report reads.
At 23.8%, Kentucky had the highest obesity rate among children aged 10 to 17. Montana had the lowest at 10 percent.
Six states had youth obesity rates significantly higher than the national rate, including Kentucky at 23.9%, Mississippi at 22.3%, Louisiana at 22.2%, West Virginia at 21 , 9%, Alabama at 21.8% and Tennessee at 20.8%.
Read the full report on the state of childhood obesity in 2021.