A new state-by-state analysis of health data has found that more than 15 percent of Vermont youth are considered obese, the highest rate of in New England.
Vermont was ranked 20th overall for obesity rates in youth ages 10 to 17 in 2017-2018, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s State of Childhood Obesity report. The rate for Vermont adults, 27.5 percent, was ninth lowest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Experts say obesity is linked to increased chance of chronic disease.
“These diseases if left unchecked, they account for more than half the deaths in Vermont so it’s it’s really important to pay attention to this,” said Sue Kamp, director of Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Women’s Health for Vermont.
The national obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17 in 2017-18 was 15.3 percent — slightly higher than the 15.1 percent reported in Vermont. Around the country, black and Hispanic youth had obesity rates that were significantly higher than white or Asian youth, according to the data from the National Survey of Children’s Health.
Adult obesity rates now exceed 35 percent in nine states, 30 percent in 31 states and 25 percent in 48 states.
Kamp said lifestyle has a direct impact on our eating habits.
“With all these jobs and activities we’re involved in, it’s sometimes hard to get a meal on the table,” Kamp said. “People are relying on processed foods that might have fruit or vegetables in it but not the right amount.”
It’s something Dr. Matthew Saia, a pediatrician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, sees the effects in his office everyday.
“A lot of healthy eating and exercise habits are things that are together within the family,” he said. “It’s not just the children who struggle with it but it’s also the parents too.”
Saia encourages his patients to be active for at least an hour every day. In today’s world of technology, he said screen time is also to blame for youth obesity.
“Whether that’s video games or on the computer, or social networking, that can take up a lot of hours and it can be easy to get lost in that,” he said.
Public health leaders say they’re working to make communities around Vermont healthier.
“Work with communities to make sure healthy food is more accessible through farmers markets and food shelves that now carry fresh produce,” Kamp said. “And to make sure communities have sidewalks and safe places for people to ride their bikes.”
Kamp also says farm-to-school food programs in Vermont can help children learn healthy eating habits at a young age.