UH Med Now
New Data Show 13,800 Youth in Hawaii Have Obesity
Pictured: Healthy eating and exercise are emphasized at Keiki Health Camps held in the community annually by honor students of the University of Hawaii medical school. 2018 Photo on Linapuni Elementary School campus by Deborah Manog Dimaya, 2018.
News Release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with additional reporting by UH Med Now
Dr. May Okihiro, University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), said of the data, “Things are changing and many different sectors of our community are working on making healthier choices. Still, we need to do more to make healthier choices available for everyone in Hawaiʻi and reduce the obesity rate even further, especially for rural and economically disadvantaged communities in Hawaiʻi.” Dr. Okihiro, who practices at the Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, is a child obesity researcher who leads a collaborative collaborative health promotion initiative called Hawaiʻi 5210 Let’s Go!
The Hawaiʻi data are included in State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow up Healthy, a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). This first-ever report includes the best available data on national and state childhood obesity rates, policies that can help address the epidemic, and features stories about local communities taking action. The full release, including videos and interactive data features, can be found at www.stateofchildhoodobesity.org.
“These new data show that this challenge touches the lives of far too many children in this country, and that Black and Hispanic youth are still at greater risk than their White and Asian peers,” said Richard Besser, MD, president and CEO of RWJF. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is committed to reducing the rates of childhood obesity across the nation. We know it won’t be easy, or quick. We know it will require policy changes at every level of government, and we’re working alongside others to implement shifts that will make it easier for kids and their families to be healthy.” Over roughly the last decade, RWJF has committed more than $1 billion to helping all children grow up at a healthy weight.
RWJF includes several policy recommendations in the report that would help ensure more children in the United States have consistent access to healthy foods from the earliest days of life, in order to help them grow up at a healthy weight.
Among the recommendations:
The national obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 in 2017-18 was 15.3 percent, compared with 16.1 percent in 2016. The difference is not statistically significant.
Racial and ethnic disparities persist. Black and Hispanic youth had obesity rates (22.2 percent and 19.0 percent, respectively), that were significantly higher than White youth, 11.8 percent, or Asian youth, 7.3 percent.
There are also disparities by income level: 21.9 percent of youth in households making less than the federal poverty level had obesity, significantly more than the 9.4 percent of youth in households making at least 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
Three states had obesity rates statistically significantly higher than the national rate in 2017-18: Mississippi (25.4%), West Virginia (20.9%), and Kentucky (20.8%).
Six states had obesity rates statistically significantly lower than the national rate in 2017-18: Utah (8.7 percent), Minnesota (9.4 percent), Alaska (9.9 percent), Colorado (10.7 percent), Montana (10.8 percent), and Washington (11.0 percent).
No states saw statistically significant changes in their overall obesity rates between 2016 and 2017-18, however additional years of data are needed before trends over time can be reliably assessed.
“These differences by race, ethnicity, and geography did not happen by chance,” said Besser. “They are a result of discriminatory policies and systems that have been in place for decades. However, we have the power to change these outcomes and make our nation a more equitable society. The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them. ”
Obesity can put young people at greater risk for several other diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Research also shows the importance of obesity prevention efforts early in life: One study found that five-year-olds who were overweight were four times as likely as healthy weight children to have obesity by age 14.
The last several years have brought some significant policy shifts, along with declining obesity rates among some children. More than 30 million children eat healthier school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks thanks to the updated nutrition standards ushered in by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The obesity rate among children participating in WIC declined from 15.9 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2016. Researchers from the CDC cited recent healthy updates to the WIC food package, the foods and beverages participating families can purchase, as one possible driver of the decline in rates.
Today’s release also highlights on-the-ground action several communities are taking to help children grow up at a healthy weight. Leaders in Boston, San Antonio, Columbus, Ohio and Washington State all are featured for their innovative efforts to improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for kids and families to be active.
State-by-State Obesity Rates Among Youth Ages 10-17, 2017-18
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation