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One-Third of U.S. Children Found to Be Overweight or Obese

About one-third of U.S. children ages 10 to 17 were found to be either overweight (15.6 percent) or obese (15.7 percent), according to the latest National Survey of Children's Health from the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.

The findings, released earlier this month, reflect a slight improvement over the last data set from 2007, but are still worse than what was reported in the original 2003 survey.

In 2003, 14.8 percent of children ages 10 to 17 were considered obese, and an additional 15.7 percent were considered overweight (30.5 percent total), according to that year's survey. The percentage of obese children rocketed up in 2007 to 16.4 percent, although the percentage of overweight children slightly dropped to 15.3 percent.

In the most recent survey, which drew upon more than 95,000 telephone surveys completed nationally during 2010-12, the percentage of obese children across the U.S. shrank to 15.7 percent, while the percentage of overweight children actually rose slightly (15.6 percent). In total, the percentage of overweight or obese children fell from 31.7 percent in 2007 to 31.3 percent in 2011-12.

Here, you'll see the overweight and obesity rates over the past decade in visual form (the red line is for obese children, the green is for overweight):

It's not the first time a study has found roughly one-third of American adolescents to be either overweight or obese. In fact, a 2011 report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggested that more than one-third between the ages of 10 to 17 were considered obese or overweight at the time.

The states with the most overweight or obese children changed over the past five years. In 2007, the 10 states with the highest rates were: Mississippi (44.4 percent), Arkansas (37.5 percent), Georgia (37.3 percent), Kentucky (37.1 percent), Tennessee (36.5 percent), Alabama (36.1 percent), Louisiana (35.9 percent), West Virginia (35.5 percent), the District of Columbia (35.4 percent) and Illinois (34.9 percent).

Well and Good

In 2011-12, six states made a repeat appearance on the top-10 offenders list. In order, the 10 states with the highest rates of either overweight or obese children were: Louisiana (39.8 percent), Mississippi (39.7 percent), South Carolina (39.2 percent), Arizona (36.7 percent), Texas (36.6 percent), North Dakota (35.8 percent), Kentucky (35.7 percent), Alabama (35.0 percent), D.C. (35.0 percent), and Georgia (35.0 percent). South Carolina, Arizona, Texas and North Dakota were all new to the top 10.

On the plus side, more youths ages 6 to 17 reported participating in at least 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) 4-6 days a week than ever before. In 2003, 33 percent of youths reported 4-6 days of exercise in the past week and 26 percent exercised every day. Four years later, 34.4 percent of youths participated in MVPA 4-6 days in the past week and 29.9 percent exercised every day.

Fast-forward to 2011-12, and 37.7 percent of children ages 6-17 participated in 4-6 days of MVPA within the week before they were surveyed. The percentage of children who exercised every day dipped slightly from 2007, falling to 28 percent.

Here's that in graph form, for the visual learners out there (the red bars represent the percentage of children ages 6-17 who exercised 4-6 days per week; the green bars represent children who exercised every day):

What can schools do to prevent childhood obesity from spreading even further? Plenty, according to multiple reports.

In a report from June 2012, the Bipartisan Policy Center suggested that schools should actively work to improve nutrition and physical-activity opportunities for students. The center specifically suggested integrating physical activity into the whole school day, restoring recess, and including physical activity in out-of-school activities.

A May 2012 report from the Institute of Medicine also said schools should become a major focal point for preventing the spread of childhood obesity. The IOM noted that since students spend an abundance of waking hours on school grounds, it "puts schools in a unique position to support students in getting optimum physical activity, eating healthily, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight."

Parents seem well aware of this. In a 2011 poll from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, 35 percent of parents surveyed felt that their children's elementary schools didn't dedicate enough time for physical education. More recently, a KidsHealth in the Classroom survey of more than 1,100 parents and educators found near-unanimous agreement that physical education and health classes should be mandatory, especially among middle and high school students.

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