One in six Hoosier children aged 10 to 17 is obese, making Indiana among the worst states in the nation for childhood obesity, according to a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Indiana ranks 13th for childhood obesity, with 16.6% of children in that age range considered obese, according to the new data, released earlier this month. The worst state is Mississippi, with a childhood obesity rate of 25.4%. The best state is Utah, with a childhood obesity rate of 8.7%.
Obesity is the condition of being excessively overweight, defined by the National Institutes of Health as a body mass index of 30 and above. Body mass index is a weight-to-height ration, calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in meters. Obesity can contribute to serious health issues, including diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
The good news is that Indiana’s childhood obesity rate has actually fallen slightly. In 2016, the rate was 18.5% and last year it was 17.5%. The report did not break down where Indiana’s highest obesity levels were found by neighborhood, race or income level. But a letter from the foundation’s president, Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician, said obesity and other health concerns “are symptoms of larger, more systemic problems in society,” such as poverty, unsafe housing, inadequate schools and neighborhoods that don’t offer suitable opportunities for physical activity.
“They continue to contribute to the significant disparities in obesity rates by race, by income and by geography,” he wrote. “However, we have the power to change these outcomes and make our nation a more equitable society. The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them.”
The report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said Indiana falls short in setting policies that would prevent obesity, such as not requiring early-childhood educational programs to provide meals and snacks that meet dietary guidelines, and not having a minimum requirement for middle school or high school students to participate in physical education.
On the plus side, however, Indiana has set limits for screen time in early-childhood educational settings, and requires students to participate in some sort of physical education.
Several neighboring states also have high childhood obesity rates, including Kentucky (20.8%), Michigan (18.9%), Ohio (17.1%) and Illinois (14.2%).
Indiana adults are also too heavy, with an obesity rate of 34.1 percent, ranking the state 15th in the nation, the foundation said in an earlier report.