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Study: Washington youth have fifth lowest obesity rate in U.S.

Childhood obesity is on ongoing issue, with upwards of 4.8 million young people classified as obese, and the average obesity rate at 15.3 percent. While it’s still an issue locally, a new study shows that Washington state youth between 10 and 17 years old are well behind the national average, with an obesity rate at 11 percent.

The study was produced by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic and research group that focuses on health. Though the obesity rate in Washington state saw a slight increase over the past two years, Washington ranks 46th in the nation for 2017-18, in which children have the fifth lowest obesity rate in the country, and adults the 13th lowest.

Mississippi had the worst obesity rate for youth in the country at a rate of 25.4 percent, and Utah the lowest rate at 8.7 percent. The study determines obesity rate by assessing the Body Mass Index (BMI), which divides a child’s weight by height, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies obesity as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same
age and sex.

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“The new data reinforce that childhood obesity remains a significant challenge for the country. Obesity puts young people at risk for a host of serious, long-term health consequences, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even certain types of cancer. Seeing that one in six young people in the country has obesity reminds all of us that we still have a long way to go to truly
turn these rates around,” said scientist Dr. Lydie Lebrun-Harris in the study.

The study also found disparities by race and ethnicity, with Black and Hispanic youth obesity rates at 22.2 percent and 19.0 percent, respectively, significantly higher than white youth at 11.8 percent and Asian youth at 7.3 percent. Income disparities existed as well, with a 21.9 percent obesity rate of youth in households making less than the federal poverty level, as compared to the 9.4 percent obesity rate in households making at least 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

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A recent state audit found that Washington’s elementary schools aren’t providing enough time for students to eat lunch. The audit found that most didn’t allow for the recommended minimum of 20 minutes of seated lunchtime and half of the schools didn’t have recess before the meal.

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