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Childhood-Obesity Rates Leveled Off Over Past Decade, Report Finds

Childhood-obesity rates in the United States have more or less stabilized over the past decade, according to a report released Thursday by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The report, titled "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2013," says that based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "the rates of childhood obesity have remained statistically the same for the past 10 years." That comes with one exception, however: The prevalence of obesity among boys between the ages of 2 and 19 jumped from 14 percent in 1999-2000 to 18.6 percent in 2009-10.

In total, 16.9 percent of U.S. children between the ages and 2 and 19 are considered obese, and 31.7 percent are considered either overweight or obese, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In terms of sheer numbers, that loosely translates to 12 million obese children and adolescents and 23 million who could be classified as overweight or obese.

A child is considered obese if he or she has a body mass index (BMI) greater than the 95th percentile for his or her age group. Overweight children have a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile for their age group.

For the report, the TFAH and RWJF examined three separate data sets to pull together information on childhood-obesity rates: the CDC's 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey; the CDC's 2011 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System; and the 2011 National Survey of Children's Health. (My colleague Christina Samuels recently wrote about the second study, which found obesity rates among low-income preschoolers to have declined in 19 states, in a post on our Rules for Engagement blog.)

Well and Good

The most recent data for childhood obesity on a state-by-state level came from the latter. According to the National Survey of Children's Health, obesity rates for children ages 10 to 17 ranged from a low of 9.9 percent (in Oregon) to a high of 21.7 percent (in Mississippi).

The top 10 states, in terms of obesity rates among 10- to 17-year-olds, are as follows: Mississippi (21.7 percent), South Carolina (21.5 percent), Washington, D.C. (21.4 percent), Louisiana (21.1 percent), Tennessee (20.5 percent), Arkansas (20.0 percent), Arizona (19.8 percent), Kentucky (19.7 percent), Illinois (19.3 percent), and Texas (19.1 percent).

Curious about the 10 states with the lowest rates of obesity among that age group? In order: Oregon (9.9 percent), New Jersey (10.0 percent), Idaho (10.6 percent), Wyoming (10.7 percent), Colorado (10.9 percent), Washington (11.0 percent), Vermont (11.3 percent), Hawaii (11.5 percent), Utah (11.6 percent), and Maine (12.5 percent).

There were 23 states in total with at least 15 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds considered obese. Six states had at least 20 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds classified as obese.

Adults' obesity rates, while higher than the childhood-obesity rates, also showed signs of leveling off, according to the report.

"After decades of unrelenting bad news, we're finally seeing signs of progress. In addition to today's news about the steady rates for adults, we've seen childhood obesity rates declining in cities and states that were among the first to adopt a comprehensive approach to obesity prevention," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the president and chief executive officer of the RWJF, in a statement. "But no one should believe the nation's work is done. We've learned a lot in the last decade about how to prevent obesity. Now it's time to take that knowledge to scale."

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