Study ranks state 16th in childhood obesity

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HANCOCK COUNTY — The pandemic is not only adding to the stress load for many Americans.

It’s also adding to their waistlines, especially those working or learning from home.

Indiana recently ranked 16th in the nation in terms of childhood obesity, according to a report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which studies childhood obesity and advocates for changes to prioritize children’s health in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Childhood obesity remains an epidemic in this country,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the national nonprofit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic recession have worsened many of the broader factors we know contribute to obesity,” he said.

An estimated 16.7% of Indiana youths ages 10 to 17 are reportedly obese, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index over 30, according to the World Health Organization.

The national youth obesity average is 15.5%, meaning roughly one in seven youth are obese, which is a leading risk factor when combating COVID-19.

Childhood obesity can lead to adult obesity, said Bussel, which carries a host of health risks like diabetes and hypertension.

According to the Obesity Action Coalition, a national nonprofit, childhood obesity puts children at risk for many of the same health conditions as obese adults, like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea.

Even if a child doesn’t suffer from obesity, they run a risk of becoming obese as adults if not taught the value of proper nutrition and exercise, said Joel Hungate, director of the Hancock Health Wellness Centers.

The current rate of obesity for adults in Indiana is nearly double that of children. A total of 34% of Hoosier adults are considered obese. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put Hancock County’s adult obesity rate at 35% in 2019, up from 28% in 2011.

To prevent children from become obese as adults, Hungate and other health experts encourage parents to set a healthy example at home, teaching children healthy eating and exercise habits that will hopefully last a lifetime.

To view the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s report, titled “State of Childhood Obesity: Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic,” visit stateofchildhood obesity.org.