New data showcased in a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) reveals that nearly one in seven adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 have obesity.
The report, called State of Childhood Obesity: Prioritizing Children’s Health During the Pandemic, shines a light on the disproportionally higher obesity rates among non-white children. Currently, the national obesity rate for youth between 10 and 17 years old is 15.5%. However, that figure is higher among Black (22.9%), Hispanic (20.7%), and Native American children (28.5%). (Related: 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time)
The stark ethnic and racial disparities are not only reflective in obesity data but also in the communities most negatively impacted by COVID-19. Emerging research has linked obesity with an elevated risk of experiencing severe symptoms from the disease, according to the report. Young people in households below the federal poverty level are also more than twice as likely to have obesity than those at the top rung of the income ladder.
“We’ve seen these disparities for decades when it comes to childhood obesity rates,” RWFJ senior program officer Jamie Bussel said in a statement. “This year, we’ve also seen people of color and people with low incomes hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, these outcomes reflect decades of disinvestment in specific communities and specific groups of people, often driven by the systemic racism and discrimination that are still so prevalent in our society.”
One key to lowering the obesity rate is recognizing that “so much has to do with opportunities to make healthy choices,” Dr. Richard Besser, RWJF president and CEO, said. The foundation recommends that Congress raise the maximum SNAP benefit level by a minimum of 15% per individual in response to the pandemic.
“We will break down the barriers that keep our communities so segregated that prevent people from having opportunity,” Besser said.
Recently, the USDA announced that it would extend its free summer meal program through June 30, 2021, instead of capping it at the end of 2020.
“As our nation reopens and people return to work, it remains critical our children continue to receive safe, healthy, and nutritious food,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told Food Business News.