Written By: Mark Lollis | Community Health Advocate
Many of us have heard the term “childhood obesity.” For decades, we have watched countless initiatives and health studies as well as local and state government officials highlight the issue. Yet, childhood obesity remains a serious problem in the United States, causing poor and sometimes fatal health outcomes.
‘What is it?’
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), childhood obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age. Although some question the accuracy of the BMI because it does not take into account weight from muscle mass, BMI is still a fairly reliable and inexpensive way to determine a healthy body weight. Parents can use the CDC’s Child & Teen BMI Calculator to easily identify where their children's weight status falls on the scale of underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese.
‘Where are we now?’
In 2019, the prevalence rate for obesity was about 19%, meaning nearly 13.7 million children in the U.S. are obese today. In contrast, communities of color experience even higher prevalence rates of childhood obesity, as Hispanic/Latinx individuals in the U.S. have a 25% childhood obesity prevalence rate and non-Hispanic, Black individuals have 22% obesity prevalence rate. Meanwhile, non-Hispanic white individuals have a childhood obesity rate at 14% obesity prevalence for communities. The significant difference in these numbers are called disparities.
‘But, what causes these disparities?’
Safe places for children to play, access to fresh food grocery stores or markets, access to quality and affordable health care, and household income all contribute to the prevalence of childhood obesity in Black and Brown communities. Diving a little deeper, America’s long and well-documented history of systemic racism, has played a major part in creating the conditions that have led to the disparities in education, socioeconomic status and health.
‘So, what can we do?’
There is never a one size fits all solution to combat childhood obesity, but there are strategies that can be used to fight it. Individually, families can work on developing healthier eating habits, keep children active and make sure everyone gets a good night’s rest.
As a community, one thing that we can do to combat childhood obesity is staying informed to be able to connect others to resources for healthy eating and physical activity. There are community centers and parks in most communities. Also, utilizing community gardens and local farmer’s markets to get fresh produce helps to fill in the gaps where food deserts exist.
Lastly, encouraging our local government officials, such as your local city council, to push funding and policies that help reduce the rate of childhood obesity in our communities. Increasing our children’s access to resources that allow safe and adequate physical activity, healthy food and educational opportunities are vital to decreasing childhood obesity.
There is a part that we can all play in the fight against childhood obesity. Join the fight!
For more information and facts on childhood obesity, visit https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html.
ABOUT THE NAACP HEALTH COMMITTEE:
The NAACP is committed to eliminating the racial and ethnic inequities that exist within our healthcare system that undermine communities of color, their life opportunities and their ability to contribute fully to the common good. The Nashville Branch Health Committee’s blogs aim to promote health and wellness of Black and other communities of color.