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Childhood Obesity Increasing in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG, Pa. – As rates of childhood obesity are increasing across the state, the Wolf Administration wants parents and guardians to be educated on the serious health effects of this disease and to make sure children are eating healthfully and getting enough physical activity.
“Childhood obesity is a serious and complex health issue, and the number of students with obesity in the state has been increasing over the past five years,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “As children are going back to school and their routines are changing, now is the perfect time for parents to make sure their kids are eating healthfully. It is also extremely important to make sure they are getting enough physical activity.”
Children 6 years of age or older should be getting at least an hour of physical activity a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with part of that time being aerobic activity such as walking, running, swimming or other activities. However, only 30 percent of teens in high school are getting an hour of physical activity a day.
A healthy diet follows the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasize eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, a variety of lean protein foods and low-fat and fat-free dairy products, while limiting foods and beverages with added sugars, solid fats, or sodium.
Childhood obesity is defined as a person age 2-19 with a Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. In 2015-16, nearly 17 percent of students in grades K-6 were obese. In the same year, approximately 19 percent of students in grades 7-12 were obese. Over 30 percent of children in both age groups were either obese or overweight.
In 2014, nearly 13 percent of children 2 to 4 years old, receiving Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), were obese. Children who have obesity are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease; type 2 diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.
“While these numbers are below the national obesity percentages, it still shows that childhood obesity is an ongoing issue across the state,” Levine said. “The department provides a number of resources to help families who need assistance in working to ensure their children are at a healthy weight. The Healthy People 2020 initiative set a goal to reduce the percentages of school-aged children who are obese while educating parents, guardians, medical professionals and students themselves on the importance of being healthy.”
Numerous studies have shown that childhood obesity is more prevalent among minority and low-income families. The WIC program, which serves low-income families, aims to ensure that children get a healthy start to life. Vouchers are included in the WIC program for residents to purchase Pennsylvania-grown fruits and vegetables at approved farm markets and farm stands across the state.
More information on childhood obesity, and programs to assist families in keeping children healthy, can be found on the Department of Health’s website at health.pa.gov.
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