All children deserve the best possible health opportunities to set the stage for positive health outcomes into adulthood. Unfortunately, childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels, putting thousands of Kentucky children at risk for poor health. Kentucky has the 3rd highest rate in the nation of overweight and obese children ages 10-17 at 37.1 percent. Childhood obesity affects very young children as well. In 2010, the obesity rate for Kentucky children ages 2-4 in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was 15.6 percent, higher than the national average. The risks associated with childhood obesity affect not only a child’s health, but have also been linked with decreased academic achievement and rates of school attendance. Research suggests the health risks associated with obesity are greater than those of smoking, drinking, or poverty, each of which is strongly linked with poor outcomes and early mortality.
While reducing childhood obesity may seem like a daunting challenge, there are viable solutions already at our disposal. Nationally, campaigns like Let’s Move! and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity are working to reverse the epidemic. Also, in Kentucky, the issue of childhood obesity has become a key concern of legislators. In the current legislative session, Senate Bill 39 would require body mass index (BMI) to be recorded on the preventative health care examination forms submitted to the Kentucky Department of Education for public school students. Non-identifying data would be shared with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to better serve community health needs. Also, Senate Bill 110 would open the door for more physical activity opportunities for children and families by encouraging schools to open their facilities to the community during non-school hours for physical fitness. Lastly, as a result of legislation passed last year, the Kentucky Task Force on Childhood Obesity will soon release a report on other legislative actions the General Assembly can take to reduce childhood obesity in the Commonwealth.
For more information on this Kentucky KIDS COUNT indicator view the 2011 County Data Book here.