Despite decrease in rate, Virginia ranks first in childhood obesity

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BOTETOURT COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Virginia ranks number one in the United State for childhood obesity rates among 2 to 5 year olds, according to a new study by the CDC and the USDA.

Despite the commonwealth's ranking, the study revealed the numbers are declining.

The study shows that there is a decrease in childhood obesity rates among children who are enrolled in a federal assistance program known as WIC.

That program has made an impact here in Virginia.

Obesity is a nationwide epidemic that for many children, starts early. Dr. John Moore, with Carilion's Children in Daleville, said it's a discussion that comes up often in his pediatricians office.

"It's something that we have to deal with on a daily basis," Moore said. "I have to talk to my patients and families about it a lot more often than what I would like to."

But for the first time in a decade, the new study reveals a decline in the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. among 31 states and three territories, including in the commonwealth.

The study showed a decline in obesity among children enrolled in WIC, a federal assistance program that provides only healthy food options for pregnant mothers and their children ages five and under.

Dr. Donald Schwarz, Vice President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the numbers are encouraging.

"Federal nutrition programs, like WIC, play an important role in helping mothers and young children have access to healthy foods and establish good habits now and for the future," Schwarz said.

"Kids from lower-inco

me families are especially vulnerable and often face higher risk for obesity," Schwarz said.

Utah had the lowest rate of 2-4-year-old WIC participants who were obese at 8.2 percent, while Virginia had the highest rate at 20.0 percent, according to the study which was published Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the CDC and the USDA.

The data shows Virginia is making progress. The decline in childhood obesity rates began in 2010 when the rate was at a peak of 21.5 percent.

In 2012, the rate dropped by 1 percent to 20.5 percent. It then showed another decrease in 2014 dropping to 20 percent.

Despite the improvement, Virginia ranks number one in the U.S. for the highest childhood obesity rate among 2-4 year olds enrolled in WIC, which is well above the national average of 14.5 percent.

"Obesity rates among this population are still far too high and more work needs to be done," Schwarz said.

Moore said high rates in Virginia are due to a combination of factors.

"For some reason, we tend to not get as much exercise as some states do. And we tend to have more eating problems than some states do. Some of that may be genetic, and some of that may be environmental," Moore said.

He said childhood obesity can lead to much more serious issues later in life.

"So, a lot of the diseases that we think about for grownups, heart attacks, stokes and diabetes, are obviously not a problem for two year olds. But the habits can definitely impact where they are later in life," Moore said.

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