Fourth graders

go through the line in the cafeteria at Valley Grove Elementary School in Anderson on a recent Friday to get their lunch of lasagna, chicken nuggets or hamburgers. A new report ranks Indiana 13th in the rate of childhood obesity.  CNHI News Indiana photo by John P. Cleary
Fourth graders go through the line in the cafeteria at Valley Grove Elementary School in Anderson on a recent Friday to get their lunch of lasagna, chicken nuggets or hamburgers. A new report ranks Indiana 13th in the rate of childhood obesity. CNHI News Indiana photo by John P. Cleary
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies childhood obesity as a serious health problem in the United States that can put youth at risk for poor health.

In a recent study from the State of Childhood Obesity, a project from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Indiana ranked 13th in youth obesity in the country or third in the Midwest, trailing behind Michigan and Ohio. With an estimated 16.6% youth obesity, approximately one in six Hoosier youth risk worse health outcomes because of their weight.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Minnesota ranked 50th in the nation and last in the Midwest, with 9.4 percent youth obesity.

The State of Childhood Obesity recommends several policies to reduce obesity, such as daily physical activity, nutrition standards for childcare centers and reducing screen time.

Indiana, like all states, requires physical education for all youth, but it doesn’t set a required minimum time for physical education. The Hoosier State also doesn’t automatically update dietary guidelines with the latest standard. And, while more than half of states set a time limit on screens in early childhood education centers, Indiana has no limit.

Concerned about childhood obesity, Sen. Victoria Spartz, R-Noblesville, introduced a bill earlier this year requesting a report on Hoosier youth.

“I think we all know that obesity rates are at the point of being a public health crisis,” Spartz said. “But I was surprised to see this statistic in children because you usually think of children as being active and running around.”

Hospital CEOs told her about climbing health care costs, and military recruiters said they had denied young adults from service because of their weight.

“Generally, if you become obese before the age of 10, it becomes a chronic condition,” Spartz said. “So we need to see what’s happening and assess the scale of it in Indiana.”

Spartz said she wanted to know whether Hoosiers needed to improve education for youth and whether existing programs, such as increased spending on healthy lunches, had positive impacts.

“If you already have this issue at a young age, it only gets worse,” Spartz said. “That’s not acceptable. We have to see what’s happening and what we can do.”

The report may not be as comprehensive as Spartz wanted, she said, because the report depends on a multi-year initiative that apparently had been abandoned. Still, Spartz said a report would help determine next actions.

“We need to inform people that they have more educated choices. We have to have that discussion,” Spartz said. “If we’re really going to change, we’ve got to introduce new lifestyles.”

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) warns that childhood obesity has many causes beyond poor diet and lack of exercise, but that the associated discrimination and stigma also has many negative impacts.

“(Children classified as obese) become more likely to have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and a poor body image. Studies have found that children living with obesity who face negative attitudes from peers have higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors than others,” the OAC said on their website.

This weight stigma can be linked to health problems such as eating disorders, binge eating or attempting unhealthy weight-loss options, OAC said.

“One study found teens who were unfairly treated due to their physical appearance had higher blood pressure, even after considering their current body weight, gender, activity level, posture and mood,” OAC said. “Overall, the added effects of weight bias greatly reduce a child’s quality of life.”

The OAC gives advice to parents concerned about their children, encouraging parents to evaluate whether their own attitudes about weight are discriminatory rather than factual. This includes making assumptions about a person’s lifestyle based on their weight and believing common stereotypes.

“Focusing on weight-loss and size can add to weight stigma, even if meant to be supportive,” the OAC said, adding that parents should focus on health outcomes rather than weight goals. “Talk about making choices to live a healthy life. Keep talks positive and do not let the issues become all you talk about.”
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