Florida has seen a drop in the number of children and teenagers classified as being obese, but there are still plenty of warning signs, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The organization found that in 2020 that obesity rates for children between the ages of 10 and 17 dropped to an average of 15.8%, a 2% decline, even as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted schools and daily life. The overall number places Florida ninth nationally in the percentage of obese children between ages 10 and 17.
But when broken down by race and ethnicity, the data shows that Black and Hispanic children nationally have higher obesity rates than their non-Hispanc White peers. Data show that 12.1% of non-Hispanic White children were obese compared to 23.8 percent of Black chidlren, 21.4% of Hispanic children, and 28.7% of non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaskan Native childen. With an 8.1% obesity rate among children between ages 10-17, non-Hispanic Asian children had the lowest obesity rates.
The report, “From Crisis to Opportunity: Reforming Our Nation’s Policies to Help All Children Grow Up Health,” cites the impact of racism on the health of children and families and how racist policies have affected the food delivery system, access to health care and housing and how it impacts peoples’ food choices. The report includes several recommendations, including encouraging states that have not expanded Medicaid to act and extending eligibility for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, to postpartum mothers through the first two years after the birth of a baby and to children through age 6.
Obesity rates for children between the ages of 10 and 17 were collected from June 2020 until January 2021 and analyzed by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The data was culled from the 2019-2020 National Survey of Children’s Health.
While the Robert Wood Johnson report data do not indicate the COVID-19 pandemic had any significance, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study suggests otherwise. The CDC report shows the rate of body mass index for 432,302 people between the ages of 2 and 19, approximately doubled during the pandemic compared to the pre-pandemic period.
Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who leads the Foundation’s efforts to prevent childhood obesity, said the report’s findings are “an urgent call to action.”
“Obesity is a symptom of deep-rooted challenges that have only been made worse by the pandemic and are a warning sign that our nation’s policies are failing our kids,” he said in a prepared statement. “ We must make real, systemic change to set kids on a path to better health.”