Some recent research suggests that childhood obesity rates are leveling off. But not all young Americans are benefitting. The advocates at Leadership for Healthy Communities want to keep the focus on segments of the population that continue to suffer disproportionately from obesity and its health effects.
LHC recently released updated versions of two obesity fact sheets focusing on African American and Hispanic youth.
“The top-line thing we want to convey is that even though we’re seeing some declines in obesity rates in certain communities, for African American and Hispanic youth it’s still disproportionately high,” said Andy Fountain, a communications associate at LHC and PreventObesity.net Leader. “All the data and all the research we highlight is leading to that.”
The fact sheet notes that the obesity rate among Hispanics ages 2 to 19 is 22.4 percent and has risen slightly in the past five years; for black children and teens, it’s 35.2 percent. (By comparison, the overall obesity rate for this age group in the United States is around 17 percent.) Youth in both minority communities also face a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes at some point in their lives.
One positive piece of data was a slight decrease in the prevalence of obesity among black children and teens, ages 2 to 19; that rate fell 3.9 percentage points between 2009-10 and 2011-12, from 39.1 percent to 35.2 percent. But Fountain offered a note of caution. “It is encouraging to see that slight drop, but we’re still wanting to stay focused on the fact that while a small decrease is good, overall the rates are still very high,” he said. “We need to continue to advance policies that advance access to healthy food and promote physical activity for all children.”
He noted that in contrast to that number, a large increase was seen in obesity rates specifically among African-American teen girls, as well as among Latino kids ages 6-11.
The fact sheets note that problems driving the high rate of obesity in minority communities include a lack of availability of fresh food and safe, accessible places to exercise. In particular, a key issue for LHC is the excessive marketing of junk food and sugar-added beverages to black and Hispanic children and teens.
“The impact of food marketing is a major concern for us, and that’s more of a focus this time around,” Fountain said. “There’s a lot of research showing that these communities are being heavily targeted by junk food and beverage ads.”
The fact sheets note that African American youth see 50 percent more fast food ads than their white peers do, and the number of ads for sugary drinks seen by Hispanic teens on Spanish-language TV stations almost doubled between 2008 and 2010.
Among LHC’s key target audience are local and state policymakers, whether elected or appointed, as well as educators and other officials.
“Our goal is to get our fact sheets in the hands of these folks,” Fountain said. “It’s also useful for parents and advocates in everyone involved in the anti-obesity network to help set the stage and inform decisions.”
Donna Brutkoski authored this report.