Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

October 2018

Obesity Continues to Challenge America's Health

By Dave Ramont

The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released their 15th annual “State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America” report, which tracks the latest obesity trends. The report also recommends actions necessary to fight obesity, and highlights programs, policies, strategies and practices aimed at fighting this epidemic.

In 1999-2000, 13.9 percent of children and 30.5 percent of adults had obesity. In 2015-2016 those rates increased significantly, with 18.5 percent of children and 39.6 percent of adults having obesity, according to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). These are the highest rates ever documented by NHANES, confirming that obesity rates are alarmingly high.

A 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which looked at individual states, found that no states showed a reduction in adult obesity rates, while six states experienced a significant increase in those rates. West Virginia tallied the highest rate at 38.1 percent while Colorado showed the lowest rate at 22.6 percent—making it the only state with a number below 25 percent. Additionally, two other studies found higher rates of severe obesity in kids and adults living in rural areas.

Ethnic and racial disparities also stood out: Black and Latino children and adults had higher obesity rates than white and Asian populations. One study found that 14.8 percent of high school students in the United States had obesity in 2017, with the rate being as high as 18.2 percent for black or Latino kids, compared with 12.5 percent of their white peers.

While the obesity epidemic can seem dire, there have been some encouraging developments. For example, obesity rates among 2-to-4-year-olds enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) dropped by about 1.5 percent from 2010 to 2014. In fact, some studies are showing that communities that encourage physical activity and healthy nutrition are reporting lower odds of obesity among kids and adults, demonstrating that communities and states that support collaborations and innovative policies can experience reductions in obesity.

In recent years, policymakers have taken steps such as updating menu labeling rules and Nutrition Facts labels, and implementing other new approaches, including the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But some efforts have been weakened or reversed, and federal budget proposals include deep cuts to key health programs that would eliminate funding for addressing obesity, nutrition and physical activity.

Regarding obesity prevention, the TFAH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report recommends three guiding principles: promote policies and scale programs that take a multi-sector approach; adopt and implement policies that help make the healthy choice the easy choice; and invest in programs that level the playing field for all individuals and families.

The report offers specific recommendations to the healthcare system and providers, food and restaurant sectors, state and local policymakers and federal policymakers including congress and the administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For more information regarding the report go to

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