Youth obesity – NJ rate is better than national average

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We’re not yet among the best-in-class states, but New Jersey’s youth obesity rate remains below the national average, according to figures released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Using data from the 2019-2020 National Children’s Health Survey, the RWJF report reveals that 13.8% of young people aged 10 to 17 in New Jersey have a body mass index that would be ranked by the health officials as obese.

The national rate for this age group is 16.2%, or about one in six.

New Jersey posted the 35th highest rate in the country. Seventeen states posted a rate at least one percentage point above the national average. The recorded rate is highest in Kentucky at 23.8%.

“The bottom line, I think, is that childhood obesity rates remain far too high, children of color and those who live farthest from economic opportunity are at greater risk, and certainly the pandemic of COVID seems to be exacerbating things, ”said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer for RWJF.

The latest figures do not show the potential consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, but a study published in September 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of childhood obesity increased by 3 percentage points between August 2019 and August 2020.

Bussel said that while obesity is largely a factor in eating habits and physical activity, it is just as important whether a child “has a safe place to feel at home” and whether the person who is looking after a child has a stable income.

The RWJF report notes that specific programs and policies play a critical role in preventing obesity. Some changes brought on by the pandemic, such as free universal school meals and the expanded children’s tax credit, can significantly reduce obesity if they persist, suggests the foundation.

Among the recommendations made by the report is the extension of eligibility to WIC, the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. Keeping children eligible up to age 6 and postpartum mothers for the first two years after birth “would align with participation in school meal programs so that there is no gaps in support, ”the report says.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at [email protected]

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