Ideastream Public Media’s health team is connecting the dots on how racism contributes to poor health outcomes in the Cleveland area.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have disrupted a slow decline in Ohio’s childhood obesity rate, according to new data released Wednesday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
Some 17.2% of Ohio children ages 10 to 17 are considered obese, compared to16.2% of children nationally.
This means about one in six kids is considered to be obese in the U.S.
Ohio’s child obesity rate was more than 18%. in both 2016 and 2017, but that number dropped to 15.7% in 2018 and 2019.
The child obesity rate climb up again, however, to 17.2 % last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic and childhood obesity are connected and have impacted children’s health in many ways, said Jamie Bussel, Senior Program Officer at RWJF.
“When we think about what COVID has done, it’s essentially disrupted every single system in our country that circumscribes our lives, whether that’s the food system, the health care system, the education system,” she said.
And much like COVID-19, the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color. While 12.1% of white children had obesity in the U.S. last year, 21.4% of Hispanic youth and 23.8% of Black children had obesity.
Housing, education, and employment policies rooted in structural racism impact a child’s health, nutrition and risks for obesity, Bussel said.
“We have structural, or what others refer to as systemic, racism, which is race-based unfair treatment that’s been built into policies and laws and practices,” she said.
Bussel would like to see policy changes to make sure all kids are getting free, healthy lunches and access to nutrition information.
She emphasized how important it is that governments create policies to work in favor of children’s health.
“Obesity, we know, is a symptom of all the larger challenges that families face in communities, and so we need to be thinking about solutions that close the gap between the kind of resources that families have today and what we know all kids need and all families need to thrive,” Bussel said.
What if your child is obese?
Obesity puts children’s health at risk as they get older, Bussel said.
“A child who has obesity is at much greater risk for pretty grave health diseases and illnesses like heart disease, like Type II diabetes, like some types of cancer,” she said.
Childhood obesity is measured through body mass index (BMI), which creates a number based on a weight and height calculation. There have been some critics of using BMI to determine obesity because it doesn’t take other health factors into consideration, Bussel said.
“It’s certainly not a perfect measure, but it’s the measure that we have,” she said.
Bussel recommends not talking to children about weight specifically but instead teaching them about nutrition, exercise, and overall health.
“Actually talk about what it means to be healthy and to thrive and to eat well and to take care of your body and to celebrate your body,” she said.