Childhood obesity jumps to 17.4 percent in Illinois; report cites pandemic and structural racism as reasons for increase

Muna Hassan

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A female holds up an apple in one hand and a donut in the other.Photo by Andres Ayrton from Pexels

Childhood obesity rates increased nearly 3 percent nationwide for kids aged 2-19 years old between 2019 and 2020, according to a new report. That’s a jump from 19.3 percent up to 22.4 percent.

In Illinois, 17.4 percent of children aged 10-17 years were classified as obese in 2020, according to the 2021 State of Childhood Obesity report. That is up from the 14.9 percent reported in 2019.

The authors of the Childhood Obesity report said the increase in childhood obesity in Illinois and across the country could be due in part to the pandemic.

This is because the pandemic led to an increased rate of food insecurity among individuals and families, especially as the food supply chain underwent disruptions and grocery shelves went empty.

In addition, the report calls out structural racism as another reason for the spike in obesity.

"We also know that racist policies and discriminatory practices put kids of color, and children and families who live furthest from economic opportunity, at high risk for obesity," said researcher Jamie Bussell in the report. "These challenges are deep-rooted, systemic, and interconnected — but they are not intractable."

According to the report, while 12.1 percent of white children are classified as obese, those numbers are nearly 24 percent and 21.4 percent for Black children and Hispanic children, respectively.

Authors of the report highlight that children with obesity are at a greater risk of developing other health conditions, including high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

This, in turn, has led to suggestions in the report to reduce childhood obesity.

One proposed change includes expanding school meals, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infant and Children (WIC), and other federally-funded programs. Another suggestion is to make access to healthy foods a "basic human right" in order to increase access to nutritious foods.

The report, published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, collected data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, which included information from June 2020 to January 2021.

Read the full report here.

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Muna has been a journalist and fitness professional for more than 10 years. With degrees in exercise science and dietetics, Muna focuses on informing people about how to lead a healthier lifestyle. Muna is the owner of Body and Mind by Muna, an online gym for at-home workouts, as well as MuslimahFit, a fitness app for women.

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