Pennsylvania youth have the ninth-highest obesity rate in the United States, according to a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The obesity rate for children ages 10 to 17 in the state was 17.4 percent. While this is more than two points above the national average of 15.3 percent, the difference was not statistically significant, according to the report. Obesity rates were calculated using data from the 2017-2018 National Survey of Children’s Health.
Obesity, defined by the report as a body mass index above the 95th percentile, puts young people at higher risk for serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Ethnic and racial minorities are disproportionately affected — obesity rates in black and Latinx communities are far above the national average.
States with higher youth obesity rates than Pennsylvania included Mississippi, at 25.4 percent; West Virginia, at 20.9 percent; Kentucky, at 20.8 percent; Louisiana, at 20.8 percent; Michigan, at 18.9 percent; Oklahoma, at 18.0 percent; South Carolina, at 17.9 percent; and Florida, at 17.8 percent. Of these, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Kentucky had a statistically significant difference between their rates and the national average.
The foundation proposed several policies to help reduce high youth obesity rates, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It called on the USDA to rescind proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or food stamps — that would limit eligibility for participants. Research has shown that SNAP participants with marginal food security have lower BMI and lower probability of obesity than those not eligible for SNAP access and at risk of food insecurity, as food-insecure individuals are often unable to access healthy foods and vegetables.
Last March, Philadelphia was ranked the least healthy county in Pennsylvania by the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, based on factors such as obesity, smoking, and teen birth rates.