OHIO — Ohio's obesity rate among young children is above the national average, according to a report released Tuesday by the health-based organization Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The study, which includes data between 2019 to 2020, shows southern and Appalachian states had among the highest rates. Researchers stated they believe the pandemic was a factor, creating increased stressors.
“The COVID pandemic has worsened risk factors for childhood obesity, causing already high obesity rates to increase,” said Dr. Sandra G. Hassink, medical director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight, in a press release. “Economic stressors, food insecurity, less consistent access to healthy meals at school, combined with increased sedentary time, sleep dysregulation, reduced physical activity, and social isolation have made it harder for families to stay healthy.”
The report breaks down into four groups: ages 10-17, students in grades 9-12, participants between the ages of 2-4 and adults 20 and older. It used data based off of a child's body mass index (BMI), and the rates were reported by parents through the National Survey for Children's Health.
In the 10-17 age group, Ohio's average was 17.2%, which is slightly higher than the national average of 16.2%. According to previous data, this number has held steady over the past five years.
For Ohio students in 9-12 grades, the report found 16.8% of participants were obese compared to the national average of 15.5%. The only category that Ohio scored less than the national average was in childen ages 2-4. In Ohio, the rate was 12.2% compared to the national average of 14.4%.
The report didn't provide a national average for adults 20 and older, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report in the spring, 40% of adults ages 20-39 were obese. Ohio hits close to that marker at 35.5%.
Kentucky had the highest childhood obesity rate at 23.8%, Mississippi had the second highest at 22.3% and Louisiana ranks at No.3 with 22.2%.
Nationally, obesity rates were among the highest in Native American, Black and Hispanic children. The report outlines the pandemic created stress across the board, but even more so in areas of poverty and areas where schools had to close, blocking children from receiving nutrient-dense meals.
The report includes policy recommendations, such as free school lunches, increased access to benefits for women and children and expanding Medicaid.