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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017 1:00 am

Third of state's youth overweight: Survey

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

States with the highest percentage of youth ages 10-17 who were overweight or obese in 2016:

1. Tennessee 37.7

2. North Dakota 37.1

3. Mississippi 37.0

4. Florida 36.6

5. Rhode Island 36.3

6. Alabama 35.5

7. West Virginia 35.1

8. Louisiana 34.0

9. Indiana 33.9

10. Arkansas 33.9

Utah had the lowest rate, 19.2 percent.

More than a third of Indiana youth ages 10 to 17 – 33.9 percent – are overweight or obese, the ninth-highest rate among states, according to data released Tuesday.

Arkansas also had a 33.9 percent rate. The national overweight and obesity rate among children and teenagers in that age group during 2016 was 31.2 percent, the National Survey of Children's Health showed.

The data follow the recent publication of the annual State of Obesity report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health. That state-by-state data showed adult obesity rates in Indiana at 32.5 percent, the 10th highest.

The new 2016 rates for youth ages 10 to 17 represent the first update to the national data set since 2011-12, a news release said.

Health advocates for years have expressed concern that many youth are inactive, tied down instead to entertaining electronic devices including cellphones and tablets used for social networking and gaming.

“It is difficult to read that a third of our young people are struggling with what used to be a problem of middle age,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said in an emailed statement. “Sadly we know that they are likely to develop a number of significant chronic health issues as a result of this issue that will likely complicate their life.

“Without inducing body shame, we need to increase our collaboration to provide a community environment that promotes eating for energy and health and provides opportunities for young people to put down the device and get moving.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is devoted to health issues, and Trust for America's Health bills itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting health and disease prevention.

The U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau funds and directs the National Survey of Children's Health and develops survey content in collaboration with a national technical expert panel and the U.S. Census Bureau, which then conducts the survey. The survey uses parent reports of a child's or adolescent's height and weight to calculate body mass index.

But survey methods and sample size changed between 2011-12 and 2016, which means the results could not reasonably be compared. The data, however, “do indicate a consistent stabilization in national and state rates of childhood overweight and obesity over the last decade,” the release said. An annual survey is expected to be conducted going forward.

Physical inactivity is a major contributor to childhood obesity, Wendy Spitznagel, an executive with the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne, said in an email response to the survey results.

The YMCA in August announced it had teamed up with Parkview Sports Medicine to bring “Active Science at the Y with Jaylon Smith” to its after-school programs. Active Science blends physical activity with hands-on science, technology, engineering and math learning concepts.

“With more than 1,500 students in our after-school programs, we have the opportunity to move the needle to engage youth and their families in an active lifestyle,” said Spitznagel, the YMCA's executive director of healthy living.

Nationally, she said, the YMCA is developing Healthy Weight and Your Child, an evidence-based program “designed for children and their caregivers to combat the obesity epidemic.”

Robert Wood Johnson and Trust for America said they urge policymakers to take several steps. They include prioritizing early-childhood policies and programs, such as support for Head Start, and expanding health care coverage and care, including continued Medicare and Medicaid coverage of the “full range of obesity prevention, treatment and management services.”