Encouraging Progress on the State of Obesity in the United States
Teaming up to reverse childhood obesity has yielded promising results—including new data that shows rates among 2-4 year olds enrolled in the federal WIC program have declined in 31 states. But the work is far from over.
Over the course of three decades, obesity rates in the United States reached epidemic proportions. Rates rose rapidly among both children and adults. Medical costs associated with obesity and related diseases skyrocketed. In many cases, school districts did away with PE and recess, and unhealthy food was the norm in school cafeterias. The number of people who lacked access to affordable, healthy food in their neighborhood spiked.
Yet over the past several years, we’ve started to see a change. Obesity rates among adults and kids have started to level off. And, a growing number of states and cities have actually started reporting declines in their obesity rates among some subgroups of children. Slowly but surely, a new story began to emerge: that we’re starting to turn the corner.
That didn’t happen by accident, or by coincidence, or by the efforts of only one person or organization. In many places across the country, we’re seeing a team approach not only to reversing the obesity epidemic, but to building a Culture of Health where all of us—no matter who we are or where we live—have the opportunity to be healthy. And we’re beginning to witness the exciting results of parents, policymakers, community leaders, health officials, educators, business owners, and industry executives coming together.
Schools are setting a great example. Updated nutrition standards for school foods are working, and several districts are implementing minimum time requirements for physical education.
Communities are innovating. Grocery stores and other healthy food retailers are receiving incentives to locate and expand in underserved neighborhoods, and 33 states have implemented policies to encourage walking and biking.
Rates have steadied nationally for both adults and kids, and childhood obesity declines are popping up all over the map. Our 2016 State of Obesity report revealed even more good news: For the first time in the past decade, adult obesity rates actually declined in four states between 2014 and 2015.
And today, we’re sharing another encouraging sign of progress: New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show obesity rates among 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families who are enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) declined in 31 states between 2010 and 2014. This is important because kids from lower-income families are especially vulnerable and often face higher risk for obesity.
Let’s be clear—while we’re hopeful about the future, our work is far from over. We still have a long way to go. In four states, obesity rates among 2- to 4-year-olds enrolled in WIC actually increased. And rates remain above 15 percent in 18 states. Nearly one in three kids remains overweight or obese nationally, and in every state, more than one in three adults is obese. Racial, ethnic, and income disparities persist or are actually growing for some segments of our young population. Too many families still lack access to healthy food in their neighborhoods or safe places to play.
RWJF’s $500 million commitment to helping all kids grow up at a healthy weight underscores the belief that achieving a healthy weight is much more than just hitting a number on a scale; it’s in many ways central to kids’ academic, social, and emotional development as well. So let’s redouble our efforts to ensure we’re giving all kids a healthy start from their very first days.
Learn about what your state is doing to promote nutrition and physical activity for children in early child care settings.
Donald Schwarz, MD, MPH, MBA is the vice president, Program, guiding the Foundation's strategies and working closely with colleagues, external partners and community leaders to build a Culture of Health in America, enabling everyone to live the healthiest life possible. Read his full bio.
Richard Hamburg is Interim President and CEO at Trust for America's Health (TFAH) where he has helped lead TFAH's efforts to ensure disease prevention is a centerpiece of health reform, and has been instrumental in TFAH's work on obesity prevention, and increasing support for public health programs.