percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese
Child obesity refers to children and adolescents in grades 1-10 who are reported as overweight or obese based on a calculation of Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation. BMI (Body Mass Index) is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height, providing a reliable indicator for most children and teens. BMI is not a diagnostic tool; it is only used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems. A child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults because children’s body composition varies as they age and varies between boys and girls.
Why does child obesity matter?
Obesity affects 17% of all children and adolescents in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago. Obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In one study, 70% of obese children had at least one cardiovascular disease risk factor; 39% had two or more. Obese children are at significantly increased risk for type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, and joint problems. Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults.
How do we measure child obesity?
In an effort to provide consistency and comparability among local and statewide data sets, the Urban Initiative uses data provided by the State of Massachusetts to measure child obesity. Massachusetts calculates the BMI of all public school students in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10 to determine each child’s weight compared to other students. Of the 163,509 Massachusetts public school students screened in 2008-2009, 64.4% were in the healthy weight category, 2.2% were underweight, 17.1% were overweight, and 16.3% were obese. Thus, 33.4% of students were either overweight or obese.
How is Fall River doing?
1. Child obesity rate: 17.4%
In Fall River, 17.4% of children are obese, as compared to a statewide rate of 16.3%. In this city, boys appear even more likely than girls to be obese (19.3% boys, 15.4% girls). Age-related weight disparities between Fall River and Massachusetts populations are not significant. For example, in first grade, 15.8% of Fall River’s children are obese, compared with 14.3% statewide, a 1.5% difference. In the seventh grade, Fall River reflect an obesity rate equal to that of Massachusetts (17.8%).
2. Proportion of children who are overweight: 19.9%
Statewide, 17.1 percent of children are overweight.
How is New Bedford doing?
1. Child obesity rate: 19.2%
In New Bedford, 19.2% of children are obese, compared with 16.3% statewide. Although boys are more likely to be obese than girls, boys and girls in New Bedford both show higher rates of obesity than statewide rates (20.2% of boys in New Bedford are obese, but only 17.8% statewide). 18.1% of the girls in New Bedford are obese, but only 14.8% statewide. As the children age, the weight disparities between New Bedford and Massachusetts populations increase. In first grade, 15.2% of New Bedford’s children are obese, compared with 14.3% statewide, a difference of less than one percent. More than one-fifth (20.4%) of New Bedford’s tenth graders are obese, compared with 15.2% statewide, a difference of more than five percent.
2. Proportion of children who are overweight: 15.4%
Statewide, 17.1% of children are overweight. In New Bedford, 7th graders have the highest overweight rate at 18.7%.
What’s being done to address childhood obesity, and where can I learn more?
Fall River is one of 52 Massachusetts communities to be part of Mass in Motion, a statewide initiative to combat obesity and the chronic diseases that result from overweight and lack of physical exercise. Mass in Motion seeks to create policy and improve the environment so that making healthy choices, such as walking or biking, are also the easiest choices. Another resource is Greater Fall River Partners for a Healthier Community, a network-driven initiative to improve health outcomes for the city and its region. New Bedford Mass in Motion provides similar programs and support in that city.
Regionally, Voices for a Healthy SouthCoast represents public health stakeholders across the region who work together to encourage better health outcomes across many areas, including obesity and its related conditions.
Data sources and methods
- Overweight and obesity data was taken from the Massachusetts Health and Human Services 2010 School Health Services Reports; http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/researcher/community-health/masschip/youth-weight-status-2010.html
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 Whitlock EP, Williams SB, Gold R, Smith PR, Shipman SA. Screening and interventions for childhood overweight: a summary of evidence for the US Preventive Services Task Force.Pediatrics. 2005;116(1):e125—144.
 Sutherland ER. Obesity and asthma. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2008;28(3):589—602, ix.
 Taylor ED, Theim KR, Mirch MC, et al. Orthopedic complications of overweight in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. Jun 2006;117(6):2167—2174.
 Swartz MB and Puhl R. Childhood obesity: a societal problem to solve. Obesity Reviews 2003; 4(1):57—71.
 Whitaker RC, Wright JA, Pepe MS, Seidel KD, Dietz WH. Predicting obesity in young adulthood from childhood and parental obesity. N Engl J Med 1997;37(13):869—873.
 Greater New Bedford Community Health Center. Healthy Care for Healthy Kids Collaborative; http://www.gnbchc.org/CareAndService_weightmanagement.html