A report released last week on obesity provided some good news about North Dakota youth. The rate of obesity among our children age 10-17 is below the national average.
The rate of youth obesity in the state is 13.4%, while the national average is 15.3%. It’s encouraging that we are below the national average, but our ranking could be better. South Dakota’s rate is 11.9% and Minnesota’s is 9.4%. The highest rate in the nation is 25.4% in Mississippi, and the lowest is 8.7% in Utah.
However, when it comes to the adult obesity rate in North Dakota, the number is dismal. The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found 35% of the state’s adult population is obese, which puts North Dakota with eight other states with the highest obesity rate.
This is alarming, not because it has anything to do with how someone looks, but because it’s unhealthy. Being overweight puts someone at a greater risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. These diseases are costly to the individual and the nation overall.
North Dakota’s youth rate has been holding steady in recent years, and we rank 33rd in the nation. There are reasons the youth rate is lower. Schools are serving healthier meals and snacks, and there has been more focus on active lifestyles.
While we often think of kids spending too much time playing computer games, there are many involved in outdoor activities and sporting events. Those out skateboarding are getting exercise.
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The state still needs to lower the 13.4% rate among youth. The Robert Wood Johnson study showed some areas that need more attention. The study shows disparities linked to race and income level. Black and Hispanic obesity rates are higher than white and Asian rates. And 22% of youth in households making less than the federal poverty level were obese -- that’s more than double the obesity rate among youth in households making four times as much.
We must do a better job of helping those groups enjoy a healthier diet. Among the steps being taken are healthy updates to the food packages offered through the federal Women, Infants and Children program.
Our youth need to carry their healthier eating habits into adulthood. Stress needs to be placed on how healthier diets result in happier and longer lives.
The number of weight loss programs and exercise facilities reflect the efforts of people to shed pounds. It can be a struggle, and it’s not a new issue.
On Sept. 5, 1975, a letter to the editor in the Tribune caused a stir. The writer complained about the number of overweight people in Bismarck and the state. He called Bismarck the “fat capital of the world.” His comments were harsh and prompted an Associated Press story on the subject two weeks later.
Bismarck wasn’t the fat capital 44 years ago and we aren’t now. However, we need to get healthier, and one way to do that is to improve our eating habits and get exercise. When possible, we should help those trying to trim down.
Our youth are setting the example, and we need to encourage them and follow their lead.