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PA’s Childhood Obesity Rates Higher than U.S. Average; Lower for WIC Toddlers

A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s project “State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow up Healthy,” which enables users to explore data and policy recommendations related to childhood obesity prevention and treatment across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, has released its first annual report.

The report documents that national childhood obesity rates have stabilized in recent years, but remain at historic highs. Children with obesity are at greater risk for serious health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and heart disease; the report estimates the cost of care for these children across all states at $14 billion each year.

Obesity rates in the commonwealth vary from national averages by age and demographic group. For example, young Pennsylvanians (aged 2–4) participating in the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) and children in grades 9–12 experience obesity at a lower rate than their peers nationally. However, Pennsylvania has the ninth highest obesity prevalence among those aged 10–17, suggesting higher-than-average obesity rates for elementary and middle-school-aged youth. Notably, according to CDC data, obesity prevalence among adults in Pennsylvania is exactly equal to national averages.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BRFSS Prevalence & Trends Data; all other data are cited on the project’s home page.

Authors identify policy solutions, including support for federal nutrition assistance programs (such as WIC and SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), as well as policies addressing food and beverage choices in schools and daycare facilities.

While RWJF published the report in October 2019, it is continuously publishing new data, including information about children ages 2-4 who participate in the Women’s, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Pennsylvania hospitals are working to fight obesity and ensure healthy nutrition among children through innovative initiatives, including fruit and vegetable vouchers, partnerships with community organizations to address youth hunger, and diabetes prevention activities.

HAP will continue to monitor childhood and adult obesity rates in the commonwealth and will maintain its support for public policy aimed at improving the health status of Pennsylvanians at all ages.

For more information about the reports or hospital-based initiatives to reduce obesity prevalence, please contact Sari Siegel, PhD, HAP’s vice president, health care research.

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