From 2005 to 2010 the obesity/overweight rate in children in California dropped one percentage point, offering hope that the three-decade-long increase may be finally turning, researchers from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA) revealed in a new report. However, the authors emphasize that rates are still extremely high – three times higher among 12-19 year olds and four times higher among 6-11 year olds than they were in the 1970s.

The study, titled “A Patchwork of Progress: Changes in Overweight and Obesity Among California 5th, 7th and 9th Graders, 2005-2010,” showed that the progress has been patchy and the majority of counties in California are still experiencing increased obesity rates among their school-age kids.

Lead author, Dr. Susan Babey, said:

“Children’s health is still at risk in a significant number of counties,” said Babey. “We found that 31 of California’s 58 counties experienced an increase in childhood overweight over the five-year period from 2005 to 2010. We hope this county-by-county analysis will help community leaders pinpoint and take action in counties in the greatest danger.”

The following counties had the highest obesity/overweight rates among children:

  • 46.9% – Imperial
  • 45.7% – Colusa. A 13.3% increase from 2005 and 2010
  • 45.2% – Del Norte. A 16.2% increase from 2005 to 2010.
  • 44.6% – Monterey

Marin County showed some good and bad news. With a 24.9% rate it was the lowest in the state. However, rates increased by 5.5% since during the period 2005-2010.

Children who are obese or overweight are more likely to:

  • be obese adults
  • develop diabetes type 2 as adults. In fact, the risk is there during childhood. Previously considered an adult disease, more children today are developing diabetes because of childhood obesity.
  • develop cardiovascular diseases, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, diseases of the aorta and its branches, heart valve disease, heart failure, etc. (as adults). In fact, hypertension and high cholesterol occur today with higher frequency during childhood or adolescence.
  • develop arthritis as adults
  • have a stroke as adults
  • develop some cancers as adults
  • suffer from sleep apnea – interrupted breathing while sleeping
  • suffer from asthma
  • have pregnancy and childbirth complications as adults
  • develop incontinence, depression, gall bladder disease, and require surgery as adults
  • suffer from social, academic and (later in life) job discrimination
  • have limited motility and decreased physical endurance which may impact on quality of life

Not only do obesity and overweight have health repercussions, but economic ones too. The authors explain that California spends over $21 billion on the consequences of obesity – more than any other state in the USA.

A series of state laws were introduced, beginning in 2004 to ban beverages with added sugar and junk food from public school premises. The authors believe that such legislation, as well as actions which impact on the promotion, marketing and availability of unhealthy foods, and greater emphasis on healthy eating habits, expanding access to exercise and physical activity, have probably contributed considerably to this recent drop in childhood obesity/overweight rates. Examples of greater access to physical activity include increased access to parks and recreational resources.

Dr. Harold Goldstein, of California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), said:

“California led the nation in establishing many of the most innovative programs and policies that are improving our children’s chances for a healthier life. Increased awareness and a growing array of school and community policies and programs are beginning to have an impact.

But in light of the huge number of counties where childhood obesity rates continue to climb, our efforts must continue and even expand, especially in those areas where we now know children are most at risk.”

The researchers gathered data from Fitnessgram (California Physical Fitness Test) which is administered every year to all kids in grades 5, 7 and 9 (public schools). They also collected data on the children’s BMI (body mass index) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided the funds for the study.

The authors concluded:

“Although the leveling off of the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents statewide is encouraging, the increased rates of obesity and overweight in many areas of the state, as well as the continuing high rates across all counties, underscore the critical need for sustained obesity prevention efforts.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist