Cincinnati Children's Blog

Public health at risk with childhood obesity epidemic

“America is guilty of child abuse.”

 Health Affairs Editor-In-Chief Susan Dentzer writes this in the March 2010 issue of the journal, a special issue devoted to combating child obesity.

The author is director of the Child Policy Research Center at Cincinnati Children's

If Dentzer’s charge of abuse doesn’t grab attention, pair it with the First Lady’s initiative to drastically reduce child obesity, AND the contents of Health Affairs’ March issue released today, and it certainly should make legislators and regulators stop, think and act.  At least, that is what my colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s Child Policy Research Center and I hope, and why we worked on the paper “National, State, And Local Disparities In Childhood Obesity” for this special issue.  To do so, we teamed with colleagues from the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at the Oregon Health Science University in Portland.

Child obesity rates in the U.S. have more than tripled in the last 30 years, and one of every three kids is overweight or obese, including in Ohio.  Obesity of such epidemic proportions can lead to myriad negative effects on children’s health, and the health of the adults they become.   We must continue and elevate the discussion for change!

Today, Health Affairs is hosting a child obesity briefing featuring a series of panel discussions at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.  Panelists include leadership from CDC, HHS and AAP …it will be a robust conversation to preview the journal’s March issue and call further attention to the domestic crisis we are facing.

The March issue “examines the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, analyzing causes of the growing problem and proposing the best available solutions for healthier future for America’s children.”  Our paper is specific to national and state-level findings on the prevalence and disparities in childhood overweight and obesity based on new data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.

These new data show that the percentage of children ages 10–17 who are overweight remained stable, while the national prevalence of obesity increased significantly, from 14.8 percent in 2003 to 16.4 percent in 2007.  Our findings suggest that the obesity epidemic among children may not yet have reached its peak.  The data also reveal persistent and highly variable disparities in childhood overweight and obesity within and among states, associated with socioeconomic status, school outcomes, neighborhoods, type of health insurance, and quality of care.  Specifically, the level of disparity is actually worsening: in 2003 poor children were 74% more likely than children in higher income families to be overweight or obese, in 2007 this added risk had increased to 102% more likely.  This requires policy makers’ attention at national, state and local levels.

In Ohio, the Healthy Choices for Healthy Children Act  currently is making its way through the State House.  The Act addresses some of the critical action items needed to make our kids healthier (as mentioned in a previous post):

  1. Get kids moving more and educate them about the benefits of physical fitness – the bill increases physical activity and physical education requirements in Ohio schools.
  2. Help them make healthier eating choices – the bill improves the nutritional options available to children in the school setting.
  3. Measure our progress!  The legislation expands current measurement efforts to collect BMI status of children at school entry in 3rd, 5th and 9th grades statewide.

We know that physically fit and active children actually do better academically, and our paper released today also shows that overweight and obese children are 30% more likely to repeat a grade and nearly 60% more likely to miss more than two weeks of school.  It is evidence like this that helps policymakers understand why action is needed.

We have to act now to help our children.  Change can’t come soon enough.

Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, worked as the Director of the Child Policy Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s and is a Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Health Policy and Clinical Effectiveness at the University of Cincinnati. The center provides information to inform policy and program decisions at the local, state, and national levels. 

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