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Author(s): The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Published: October 2019

Report Intro/Brief:
“After decades of increases, the national childhood obesity rate has held relatively stable in recent years. Yet childhood obesity rates remain stubbornly and historically high, putting millions of young people at greater risk for serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. Obesity rates rise with age and there are significant inequities in rates, with black and Latinx youth at higher risk than white and Asian youth. Each year, the United States spends $14 billion on childhood obesity alone, and between $147 billion and $210 billion on adult obesity.

In many ways, obesity reflects larger, systemic problems regarding health and equity. The epidemic is complex and challenging to address. The underlying causes of obesity range from economic, policy, and environmental influences, to cultural norms, and individual factors. For example, where families and children live, learn, work, and play have a great impact on the choices available to them. When communities lack fresh, affordable, healthy foods or safe, accessible opportunities to get outside, healthy eating and physical activity can be out of reach for many children.

The policies that affect the foods and beverages available in daycare centers and schools are also critical for helping all children grow up healthy, as are federal nutrition assistance programs that millions of families rely on, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). To date, efforts and progress to address childhood obesity have been mixed, leaving communities of color and low-income families disproportionately affected.

This report provides findings from major federal datasets measuring childhood obesity among different age groups and describes policies and programs aimed at creating healthier child-care centers, schools, and communities. It also offers recommendations for helping all children grow up at a healthy weight, especially from an early age, which is essential to preventing a wide range of health problems and saving billions in health care costs.”

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