A report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds nearly 323,000 children are obese in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. Obesity rates among the region’s children remain some of the highest in the nation.
West Virginia has the nation’s second-highest rate of obese children, Kentucky third, and Ohio tenth.
Mississippi has the highest rates of children with obesity, 24.5 percent. Utah has the lowest rate at 8.7 percent. The national average is 15.3 percent.
Across the country, Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be obese than their Asian and White peers.
Calling the rate of childhood obesity an epidemic, the report points out that obese children are at risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. The authors warn that the loss of food assistance could make the problem worse.
The report recommends that recent federal restrictions on SNAP benefits be rescinded. The report shows SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, serves nearly a third of all American children under the age of four.
Under current federal guidelines, millions could lose SNAP benefits reducing the access to healthy food, the report said.
Wave of Restrictions
Dustin Pugel is a policy analyst at the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. He said there have been several major changes aimed at trimming the SNAP eligibility rolls.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen a large wave of restrictions to food assistance in the country. And that doesn’t even account for, you know, some of the state-level changes that have been made.”
For example, he said, Kentucky now requires certain SNAP recipients to work, volunteer or attend job training or school for 20 hours a week. That requirement has caused about 21,000 people to lose SNAP benefits.
He said SNAP has a benefit beyond the health of individual families. It also provides a boost to local economies. A report this summer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program, showed local economies gain $1.50 for every SNAP dollar spent.
“This is a helpful program, not just for folks who are struggling to put food on the table, but also for local economies where that money has been spent on other groceries, on housing, on energy costs, on new cars,” he said.
In addition to making policy suggestions, the report highlighted programs successfully combating childhood obesity. A program in Ohio called Water First For Thirst has improved access to free drinking water at childcare centers, schools, and public health offices throughout Columbus. One goal of the program is to steer kids away from sugary soft drinks or other beverages with empty calories.