Grand Forks Herald graphic. Source: National Survey of Children’s Health 2011-2012.
Childhood obesity rates in the United States may finally be leveling off, but the news isn’t good for every kid.
Those with parents toting less than a bachelor degree or incomes below the poverty line for the household’s respective size aren’t slimming down at the same rate as their more affluent peers.
Their rates increase from 1990 to 2010 while children with parents holding at least a bachelor’s degree have seen their obesity rates sputter and decline during that time period. This trend includes children in North Dakota.
Thirty-six percent of the state’s 10 to 17 year olds were overweight or obese, according to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 30 percent of adults in North Dakota were considered obese in 2012.
CDC adds approximately 17 percent — or 12.5 million — of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years old are obese in the United States.
You can read today’s childhood obesity story analyzing North Dakota data and highlighting local efforts to combat the problem here. For more graphs and data not included in the story, keep scrolling.
Hitting the books
I compared quite a few numbers in the story, but I think sometimes it’s easier to see a visualization. Take the education data, which the national survey only had available for its most recent version.
Here’s what children’s weight status looks like compared to their parent’s education in North Dakota.
As the chart notes, about 56 percent of kids whose parents have less than a high school diploma are overweight or obese compared to 34 percent with parents earning more than that diploma.
In Grand Forks County, less than 10 percent of the population had less than a high school education, according to 2012 census estimates. A quarter of the population has a high school diploma, GED or equivalent.
You can see a similar correlation between weight and socioeconomic status when comparing N.D. children’s physical activity to their parents’ educational attainment. Kids with more educated parents had more days of vigorous physical activity.
It’s easy to say people who are better educated know that their kids shouldn’t eat McDonald’s every day or spend hours in front of the TV, but researchers also note other factors could be contributing to this weight trend besides uninformed parents.
Accessibility to parks and other recreational facilities is one theory. Researchers for the National Academy of Sciences note: “Neighborhoods influence not only food access but opportunities for physical activity. Low-income neighborhoods have fewer playgrounds, sidewalks, and recreational facilities.”
The image below is taken from the city’s 2040 land use plan. The circles indicate the service area of park and recreational sites in the city.
Very few areas in Grand Forks seem to lack park service though it may not be feasible for some children to bike or walk at least a mile to a park depending on the layout or composition of their neighborhood (crossing high traffic streets or having to pass through commercialized areas for instance).
If you’re a parent, you know that putting your kids in sports or other types of activities costs money whether through school or a club, but a financial barrier to sports exists for some low-income families. Low education levels often can translate into lower paying jobs for parents or guardians. Jobs that used to be within people’s reach 10 years ago with no high school degree now may require at least a two- or even four-year degree.
Some area families can receive a helping hand from organizations such Grand Forks’ Altru Family YMCA. The YMCA provides an average $200,000 per year in financial assistance toward its activity fees, child care and other programs.
Click to view a graphic comparing percentages of overweight/obese North Dakota children by income level.
A household’s financial situation not only impacts access to activities but to basic food as well.
When low-income families are facing a budget crunch, food is one of the first costs they cut with healthy, more expensive foods being traded for cheaper items high in sodium and sugar that have a longer shelf life.
About 54 percent of kids living below the poverty line for their household’s size (for a family of four that income level is $23,850) were overweight or obese in 2011 in North Dakota.
In Grand Forks County, the percentage of families and people whose income in the past 12 months was below the poverty level was about 10 percent, according to estimates from the 2012 American Community Survey. The overall poverty rate is closer to 16 percent.
Besides cost, access to healthy food also can be difficult because the household does not own or has limited access to a vehicle. Click on the link to this Google map, and you’ll find fast food restaurants are often closer to homes than grocery stores.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated nearly 10 percent of Americans live in low-income areas more than one mile from a grocery store.
The most recent county-level data indicated in 2010 that the percentage was slightly higher in Grand Forks County at 11.3 percent.
When including the county’s entire population, the department considered nearly 30 percent of people as having low access (living at least a mile away) to a grocery store — including about 4,500 children.
Graphic showing count of children with low access to (living at least mile from) a grocery store in North Dakota. Source: USDA.
Overall, Grand Forks County has less than two grocery stores but nearly eight fast food restaurants per 10,000 people.
More than half of the restaurants in the county are fast food establishments compared to 44 percent of restaurants in the state.
If you want a more comprehensive look at neighborhood access and income level, this Google map shows the locations of parks, schools, fast food restaurants and grocery stores in addition to income and population information for census tracts in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
If you want to do more exploring, you can check out the USDA’s Food Environment Atlas, National Survey of Children’s Health results through this database or the CDC’s childhood obesity page.