Health Department: Nutritious Foods, More Physical Activity Needed to Decrease Childhood Obesity

Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine stressed the importance for children to have access to healthy foods and places to exercise to help decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity in Pennsylvania.

“Childhood obesity is a serious health issue that not only impacts our children while they are young but can have long-term impacts for the rest of their lives,” Dr. Levine said. “To decrease obesity among children, we must ensure that all Pennsylvanians have access to nutritious foods and safe opportunities and places to be physically active. The department continuously works to develop programs and initiatives that help children and adults stay healthy.”

Childhood obesity is defined as a person ages 2-19 with a Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. In 2015-16, nearly 17 percent of students in grades K-6 were obese. In the same year, approximately 19 percent of students in grades 7-12 were obese. More than 30 percent of children in both age groups were either obese or overweight.

Numerous studies have shown that childhood obesity is more prevalent among minority and low-income families. The WIC program, which serves low-income families, aims to ensure that children get a healthy start to life. Vouchers are included in the WIC program for residents to purchase Pennsylvania-grown fruits and vegetables at approved farm markets and farm stands across the state.

Programs like WIC help ensure Pennsylvanians are eating a healthy diet, which is essential to decreasing childhood obesity. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, individuals should be eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, a variety of lean protein foods and low-fat and fat-free dairy products, while limiting foods and beverages with added sugars, solid fats, or sodium.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, it is essential that children and adolescents are getting enough physical activity. Children 6 years of age or older should be getting at least an hour of physical activity a day, according to the CDC, with part of that time being an aerobic activity such as walking, running, swimming or other activities.

The Obesity Prevention and Wellness Program collaborates with state and community-based partners to create healthier environments in schools, early childhood education, worksites, hospitals and communities to support and increase good nutrition and physical activity.