Report Finds Childhood Obesity Rates Serious Problem

During the past decade, Pennsylvania has made progress on reducing the overall average rate of obesity in children and adolescents, but according to two new reports released by the Highmark Foundation, childhood overweight and obesity remains a serious problem.

The full report, Stemming the Flood: Childhood Obesity Prevention in Pennsylvania, 2005 –2015, analyzed Body Mass Index (BMI) measurements for 2.2 million students from 1,114 schools in 293 districts and 53 counties in Pennsylvania, including the 10 largest cities and 18 largest counties in the state. The data was collected through a system called Health eTools for Schools, used by nurses in hundreds of schools throughout Pennsylvania to monitor student health and wellness.

“Thanks to the Highmark Foundation and the Force for Health Foundation for funding this tool for use in Pennsylvania schools,” said Robert Gillio, MD, chief executive officer for Population Health Innovations. “With its capability to effectively impact student health and wellness with real time data, Health eTools for Schools offers a promising solution to improve children’s health outcomes.

Key findings in the report include:

Through 2015, healthy weight youth were still in the majority; 6 of every 10 school-aged Pennsylvania children and adolescents have a BMI within the healthy age range.

Levels of overweight children and adolescents among the Pennsylvania school-aged population slightly, but steadily, decreased from 2007 to 2012, and then leveled off from 2013 to 2015.

After declining from 2007 to 2013, levels of obesity increased slightly in 2014 and again in 2015.

After holding steady from 2007 to 2013, levels of severe obesity rose by 2015 to a rate which exceeded that of the baseline in 2007.

Based on statistical projections, the combined prevalence rates of obesity and severe obesity in 2018 could possibly exceed those of 2007.

Despite a projected decline in overweight children and adolescents, the combined prevalence rates of overweight, obesity and severe obesity in 2018 (37 percent) is projected to approach that of 2007 (37.11 percent).

While too many individuals are still moving in the unhealthy direction, movement in the desired, healthy weight is possible, and many can and do move to a healthy weight within a relatively short period of time.

“While this data shows that we’ve taken steps in the right direction to reduce childhood obesity levels, it’s clear that we have to remain diligent,” said Highmark Foundation President Yvonne Cook. “To continue progress in reversing Pennsylvania’s child and adolescent obesity epidemic, it is going to require a multidisciplinary approach from all stakeholders because schools alone cannot solve the obesity problem.”

A summary report, Improving Child Health Outcomes: Childhood Obesity Prevention in Pennsylvania, 2005 –2015, provides several recommendations for stakeholders to consider implementing to reverse the current trends in childhood obesity and prevent the projected 2018 BMI increases. Moving forward, the health-positive policies and practices already adopted by Pennsylvania schools, in addition to efforts implemented at local and national levels, will help to recreate environments which encourage, support and reinforce the healthy eating and regular physical activity habits that help children and youth maintain a healthy, normal weight.

“The Highmark Foundation is committed to investing in children’s health, and we are hopeful that this comprehensive report will be a call to action for our communities to make the healthy choice the easy choice for our children,” said Cook.

The Highmark Foundation is a proud sponsor of this research provided by the Force for Health Foundation and Indiana University School of Public Health –Bloomington. Since 2001, the Highmark Foundation has provided $25 million in funding to support child health and wellness initiatives.