Pandemic feeds childhood obesity

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — The financial turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic could worsen the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic, as more children are exposed to the financial instability that so often fuels poor nutrition, food insecurity and other risk factors associated with obesity.

A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) estimates that 15.7%, or roughly one in seven Ohio children between the ages of 10 and 17, are obese, increasing their risk for future complications like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

Those children may also face a higher risk of hospitalization or serious complications from COVID-19, prompting the RWJF to call on lawmakers to raise the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit and keep food program waivers in place for the duration of the recession.

“We know that kids who live in poverty or whose families are struggling financially are the kids most likely to be obese,” said Giridhar Mallya, a senior policy officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Allen County’s child poverty rate peaked at 30% in 2010, according to County Health Rankings, an annual report from the RWJF tracking key health indicators in U.S. counties.

The health rankings show that roughly 19% of children here are still living in poverty. But the decrease in child poverty masks persistent racial disparities, as an estimated 55% of Black children in Allen County are believed to be living in poverty compared to 26% of Hispanic children and 13% of white children.

Those disparities are evident in childhood obesity rates too.

Nationally, the RWJF found that 23% of Black children between the ages of 10 and 17 were considered obese, compared to 11.7% of white children and 20.7% of Hispanic children.

Children living in households earning less than the federal poverty level were more than twice as likely to be obese as their peers whose families had more stable incomes as well, the report found.

“We’ve seen these disparities for decades when it comes to childhood obesity rates,” said Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer and leader of the RWJF’s childhood obesity prevention efforts. “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.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

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