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Monday, September 9, 2013

Childhood obesity: The crux of a very serious and expensive problem

Data through 2006 (source: CDC).
Throughout September, DC SCORES is focusing on National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month -- the problem and numbers both locally and nationally, and what we, other organizations, foundations, and school districts are doing to combat it. We'll have more blog posts, daily Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates during the month. We encourage you to join the conversation.


$14 billion is the estimated annual direct cost of childhood obesity in the United States. The indirect costs are extreme, too, even if an amount can’t be pinned to them.

Think about that for a minute.

Why so costly?

Because individuals who are obese open themselves to a list of illnesses including but not limited to high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), direct medical costs include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity. Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs, such as the value of income lost from decreased productivity or premature death.

Also from the CDC: 31 percent of the same age group are classified as overweight (scary) or obese (headed toward serious health issues). Read the full summary in “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s future.”

Simply put, right now we are dealing with a crisis and things will not look brighter in the future unless we change today, providing kids starting at a young age with a path toward good health. Otherwise, as is commonly known, obese children are likely to become overweight or obese adolescents … and then adults.

This blog post, though, isn’t to state the solution. We’ll do that later during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Here, we aim, simply, to lay out the factors and present how dire and critical the situation is.

Obesity projection for DC (source: F as in Fat)
Over the next 20 years — according to F as in Fat — in just the District of Columbia, obesity could contribute to 57,758 new cases of type 2 diabetes, 131,194 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 135,891 new cases of hypertension, 92,032 new cases of arthritis, and 20,320 new cases of obesity-related cancer.

While plenty of affluent people are obese, it can’t be denied that a neighborhood’s financial standing and makeup has a lot to do with its obesity rate.

Nearly one fifth of all Americans — about 52 million people — live in poor neighborhoods (i.e., neighborhoods in which at least 20 percent of residents are poor). The percentage of individuals living in poor neighborhoods varies considerably across states from a low of 2 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 42 percent in Louisiana, Mississippi and Washington D.C.

Living near a supermarket has been linked with a healthier population, while living closer to small convenience stores has been linked with higher rates of obesity and smoking. While improvements have been made, many poor neighborhoods are located in “food deserts” where affordable healthy food is hard to find and/or get to by public transportation.

Similarly, people are more likely to be physically active and healthier when they live in neighborhoods that have parks, bike lanes, walking or jogging trails, and less litter, vandalism, and graffiti. Poor neighborhoods tend to have less of the former and more of the latter.

About 22.4 percent of African-American children and 24.2 percent of Mexican-American children ages 6 to 17 are obese, compared to 17.5 percent of white children.

But it’s worth noting — and encouraging — that improved school nutritional standards are being implemented, according to a new package of research materials released by Salud America! The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children.

By 2050, 35 percent of young people in the U.S. will be Latino, so providing healthier school snacks and drinks — in addition, of course, to daily physical activity — can and will help in the struggle to for generations to come of healthy Latinos.

The problem is a big one. And a costly one. But in the past couple years, studies have shown slight signs of reversing the trend. And even in areas like the District where the numbers can depress, there is time and resources to make positive changes.

Stay tuned later in the month as we detail how DC SCORES and others are teaming up to fight this monster.

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