Minnesota has nation’s second-lowest child obesity rate

    Children play in the street on the 2900 block of S. 18th Avenue Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Many neighborhood children were meeting each other for the first time once the area was blocked off, since it previously was not safe enough for them to play in their front yards.

    Minnesota has the nation’s second-lowest child obesity rate, according to a report published Wednesday by a national health advocacy organization.

    Just over 9% of children ages 10-17 in Minnesota were obese in 2018, well below the national rate of 15.5%, according to the rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic group.

    Tracking obesity rates is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation says, since obesity can put people at higher risk of serious illness from the virus. Plus, the economic downturn and school closures mean families may not have consistent access to nutritious meals or opportunities for exercise.

    “Childhood obesity remains an epidemic in this country,” Jamie Bussel, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a written statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing economic recession have worsened many of the broader factors we know contribute to obesity, including poverty and health disparities.”

    The report identified disparities by race and income level.

    Nationwide, obesity rates were lowest among Asian children, at roughly 6%, and white children, at 11.7%. The rate is highest among Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth, at nearly 40%; followed by Native American children, 28.5%; Black children, 23%; and Hispanic children, 20.7%.

    More than 21% of youth in households that made less than the federal poverty level — $21,720 for a family of three —  were obese, compared to nearly 9% of children in households making at least four times the poverty threshold.

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.