New Jersey’s ‘middle of the pack’ ranking in childhood obesity is no cause for celebration


The childhood obesity epidemic has had a huge impact on New Jersey, but the state is starting to make progress in its fight against it.

The percentage of children 2-4 years old participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Obese Women, Infants and Children in New Jersey has increased from 18.6% in 2000 to 14.9% in 2018. During this Meanwhile, the percentage of children ages 10 to 17 considered obese has risen from 14.8% to 13.8% since 2016, according to data from the State of Childhood Obesity, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Despite declines in some key demographics in the state, obesity rates among high school students ages 14 to 18 rose 10% in 2001 to 11.9% in 2019, according to the Department of Health. State Health.

Childhood obesity is defined as having a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile on specific growth charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“While New Jersey has consistently been below the national average for rates of obesity and overweight among adults and children over the years, there are some concerning trends related to rising rates of obesity and lack of physical activity in children,” said Nancy Kearney, Deputy Director. communications with the state health department. “While New Jersey generally ranks 40th to 49th for adult obesity rates, the state is more in the middle of the pack when it comes to childhood obesity rates.”

New Jersey ranks 35th nationally for obesity rates among children ages 10 to 17.

Physical activity of 60 minutes or more five days a week among teens in the state increased from 49.8% in 2011 to 44.5% in 2019, according to the department.

Kelly Dougherty, associate professor and founding chair of the exercise science program at the University of Stockton, said the problem had reached epidemic proportions across the country.

“It could be due to a lot of different factors,” Dougherty said. “When you look at obesity and the risk of developing it, it’s environmental, it’s cultural, it’s socioeconomic in children and adults.”

Black and brown youth in New Jersey fare even worse than white children, officials said.

Childhood obesity contributes to long-term health problems and puts them at risk for other disadvantages later in life, said Dr. Alvaro Galvez, bariatric and minimally invasive surgeon at AtlantiCare.

Galvez said one of the problems is that children become obese at an earlier age, which means that the symptoms and health problems corresponding to obesity affect them earlier and, if left untreated , for longer periods of their lives.

“The longer you are sick, the more your body is damaged. The results of these problems in children are much worse. Diabetes progresses much faster,” Galvez said.

Healthier options

One of the ways the state is tackling childhood obesity is by providing access to healthier foods.

The correlation between high-quality foods and obesity was identified as a focal point in a 2018 report by state officials on steps Atlantic City should take to return to local control. The report, co-authored by Jim Johnson, former special adviser to Governor Phil Murphy, highlighted the city’s problems.

“Research shows those who have access to a supermarket versus those who don’t,” Dougherty said. “Those that do not increase the risk of developing obesity.”

A recent research project from the Rutgers University Center for Public Health found that better, healthier food options are key to avoiding obesity.

“This suggests that raising the safety of foods offered in upgraded stores to levels similar to those in small grocery stores has the potential to improve children’s weight,” according to a research report from the Rutgers University Center for public health. .

In March 2018, the New Jersey Healthy Kids Initiative was launched. The initiative is a partnership between the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health and the Child Health Institute of New Jersey that focuses on improving the health of New Jersey children.

NJHKI’s primary goal is to ensure that when children enter kindergarten, they reach the physical and emotional milestones recommended in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Weights” campaign. The long-term goal is to reduce the percentage of children considered overweight or obese in New Jersey, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers in adulthood.

A recent report suggests that one way to reduce obesity is to ensure that every child has a consistent source of healthy meals. School meals have become much healthier over the past decade. Policy changes in the pandemic era have meant more children are receiving meals.

Galvez said more needs to be done to bring the problem of childhood obesity to light.

“As a society these days, we’re actually making an effort to dismiss overweight as not a problem,” Galvez said. “It’s a fine line between social stigma and a medical problem. This is a problem that should be discussed with your doctor.

Contact Nicolas Huba:


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