California Making Headway in Battle Against Childhood Obesity But Study Shows Successes are Uneven

The percentage of overweight and obese children in California dropped 1.1 percent over a six-year period, according to a new study, “A Patchwork of Progress: Changes in Overweight and Obesity Among California 5th, 7th and 9th Graders, 2005-2010,” from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA).

Despite signs of progress in the state’s overall rates of overweight and obesity among children, the county-by-county analysis found that 31 of California’s 58 counties experienced an increase in rates of overweight and obesity between 2005 and 2010. Statewide, 38 percent of public school students in 5th, 7th and 9th grades were overweight or obese in 2010. In addition, racial and ethnic disparities in rates of overweight and obesity in California continued unabated—46.2 percent of Hispanic and 39.3 percent of African-American children in these grades were overweight or obese in 2010, compared with 26.9 percent of Whites.

Other key findings by county include:

  • In 10 counties, rates of overweight and obesity were higher than 43 percent.
  • The highest rates were in Imperial (47 percent), Colusa (46 percent), Monterey (45 percent) and Del Norte (45 percent) counties.
  • Only nine counties had rates of overweight and obesity below 30 percent.
  • The lowest rates were in Marin (25 percent), Placer (26 percent) and El Dorado (26 percent) counties.

The report offers policy recommendations for state and local leaders, including:

  • Eliminating the sale and distribution of unhealthy (high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie) foods and beverages in pre-schools, schools and after-school programs.
  • Ensuring full implementation of food and beverage standards that already have been enacted.
  • Eliminating the sale of all sweetened beverages, including sports drinks, on city, county and school properties.
  • Establishing taxes on sugary drinks at the state and local levels to pay for the harmful effects of those products and to pay for programs to remediate those effects.
  • Providing financial incentives for establishing grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and physical activity facilities.
  • Making it safer and easier for people to walk and bike, particularly in lower-income communities.