While new national data show childhood obesity on the rise, Maine’s numbers offer a more promising story. Childhood obesity rates are starting to decline for some groups in Maine.
A study published in the March 2018 issue of Pediatrics shows that the obesity rate for children aged 2-19 has increased from 14.6 percent in 1999 to 18.5 percent in 2016. That means that nationwide, almost 1 in 5 children have obesity. As the study’s authors point out, ongoing efforts to curb obesity “must continue, as must innovation, research, and most importantly at this juncture, collaboration among clinicians, public health leaders, hospitals, and all levels of government.”
Here in Maine, where Let’s Go!, The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, and other community organizations have led such a comprehensive approach to fighting childhood obesity, there are signs of success. In the decade-plus that Let’s Go! has been monitoring childhood obesity rates in Greater Portland, those rates have stabilized. Recent data also show a downward trend specifically among girls aged 3-18, from 13 percent in 2013 to 9.7 percent in 2016.
Data reported from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey told a similar story. A significant decrease was seen in the percent of third graders who have obesity, reported at 12.3 percent in 2017, down from 20.8 percent in 2015. In addition, the data appear to show a slight downward trend in obesity for fifth graders, from 22.6 percent in 2015 to 19.1 percent in 2017 (All rates cited are based on measured heights and weights).
While there is no single or simple solution to reverse the course of obesity’s rise, evidence points to changing policies and creating environments that support healthy choices as instrumental in the stabilization and reduction of obesity prevalence. The study in Pediatrics recommends the same kind of collaborative, coordinated strategy that Let’s Go! has employed since 2006, both with its earliest partners and most recently with its state collaborator, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention. Let’s Go! remains dedicated to increasing opportunities for healthy eating and active living through sustainable environmental and policy change. We are setting a positive example for the nation as a whole that is showing promising results.