As much of the nation struggles, successfully or unsuccessfully, with being obese or overweight, high school students in New York and Connecticut show both trends.
Between 2011 and 2015, the rate of obesity among all high school students in New York jumped 2.1 percent, while the rate among Connecticut students during that period dropped 0.2 percent. The numbers are according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Behavior Risk Surveillance System, and reported on The State of Obesity website.
According to the CDC survey, 12.5 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 was classified as obese in 2011, dropping to 12.3 in 2015. The percentage of girls reported as obese increased during that period, however, from 8.4 percent to 9.3 percent. Meanwhile, 15.2 percent of boys were obese in 2015, down from 16.5 percent four years earlier.
While 11 percent of New York high school students were identified as obese in 2011, the percentage jumped, in 2015, to 13.1 percent. Similarly, the percentage of girls in that category increased by more than 2 percentage points, but, unlike in Connecticut, the percentage of obese boys in New York also rose, from 13.9 to 16.1 percent.
As a result of these changes, Connecticut’s rate dropped from 18th in the country in 2011, in percentage of obese high school students, to 27th in 2015. New York’s ranking rose from 30th to 20th among all states.
Obesity is a problem throughout the country for many reasons, and it’s a tough problem to solve.
“Obesity is very difficult to reverse if children are obese by age 5,” said Abby Alter, of the Farmington-based Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. Alter is senior associate for early childhood initiatives.
The typically high sodium and calorie intake among high school students make it even a harder challenge than obese adults may face, Alter said.
Connecticut has made progress among females of high school age, but future progress will depend on teenagers’ awareness of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and the dangers of eating junk food.
“Because young children are biologically wired to prefer foods and beverages rich in calories, added sugars and sodium, it is important that the food environments in homes and daycare settings do not offer these products,” says a 2014 report by Rafael Perez-Escamilla, of the Yale School of Public Health, and Judith Meyers, president and CEO of the child health institute.
Although obesity awareness has been implemented in schools and on posters in cafeterias urging children to eating healthful foods, it may be impossible to persuade children and teens to steer clear of fatty foods that contain sugar and sodium, nutrition experts say.
Certain things can help, though, Alter said, including “projects that help mothers to have proper nutrition before they are pregnant.”
Also, “Breastfeeding promotion is important as well as education for families on when to introduce solids to their toddlers,” she added.
Families also need access to healthy foods in their communities, and these foods need to be culturally acceptable, she said. Reducing screen time for children and promoting physical activity can also help.
“Families need to encourage their children to drink water as much as possible, and not sugar-sweetened beverages,” she said. “This can save a lot of calories over time. Parents can model this behavior by drinking water with meals.”
Joseph Chung is a student at Achievement First Hartford Academy.