Thursday, June 18, 2015

Good news / bad news about childhood obesity in Ann Arbor [New Data]

Jenna Bacolor, Executive Director, AAPS Rec & Ed
New data from Washtenaw County Public Health describes how the problem of childhood overweight and obesity affects children in our county. My focus for this post is Ann Arbor children, but I encourage others to write about other areas of the county and I'll link them here. 

The good news: Ann Arbor youth have the lowest childhood obesity rate in Washtenaw County, and also buck state and national statistics.  

The bad news: The same troubling patterns exist here as elsewhere regarding which children are at higher risk. 

The short and long term health impacts of childhood obesity are well-documented, so I won't review them here. My intention in this blog post is to highlight the factors that place some Ann Arbor children at increased risk -- factors that mirror state and national trends. 
Where does this new data come from? 

Washtenaw County Public Health worked with St. Joseph Mercy Health System and the University of Michigan Health System to create the first Washtenaw Child Body Mass Index (BMI) Dataset. Both health systems contributed height and weight data from 2013 electronic health records for over 18,000 children, ages 2 - 17 years old, living in Washtenaw County.
The analysis focused on the children who are currently overweight or obese. Factors known to affect the risk of childhood obesity were examined, including poverty, racial or ethnic status, and age group. In addition, differences in communities across the County were explored, since where children live, learn and play matters. 

Overall, Ann Arbor children have a lower rate of overweight and obesity (21%) than Washtenaw County overall (26%). Remember, this is still one in five children in the Ann Arbor community. Similar to the county, state and nation, younger Ann Arbor children (ages 2-4) have the lowest rate at 15%. For teenagers ages 14-17, 26% are overweight or obese. 

The report identifies the following factors that place some children at higher risk for childhood overweight and obesity:
1. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be overweight
Washtenaw County Public Health used Medicaid coverage as an indicator of poverty when analyzing the data set. Poverty itself is a known cause of disparities in obesity rates. (See my earlier blog post on poverty's impact on kids in Washtenaw County.)
  • 15% of Ann Arbor children in the data-set are covered by Medicaid. 
  • Overall, 33% of Ann Arbor children with Medicaid are overweight or obese, compared to 19% of children with commercial insurance.
  • Children who are covered by Medicaid have higher risk of obesity at each age, compared to children who are covered by "commercial" insurance. 
2. Some racial minorities are at higher risk

From Childhood Obesity, Ann Arbor MI 2013 
Washtenaw County Public Health
Children of African American descent, and those who belong to Hispanic or Latino ethnic groups, have the highest risk of being overweight or obese. These national trends are also reflected in Ann Arbor (ages 2-17 yrs). 


Children of all races in Ann Arbor have a lower rate of overweight compared to their national counterparts. However, children of African American descent approach national rates. 

3. Where a child lives can affect risk of obesity
Even if the first two factors are removed in order to look at the children who should have the lowest risk, the area where a child lives can increase or decrease the risk of being overweight or obese. In Ann Arbor, 18% of white children with commercial insurance are overweight or obese. If they're not in a risk group due to family income or race, could where they live be a factor in their weight status? 

According to the report, community environment factors "such as walkability and access to grocery stores and safe parks and recreation areas" can affect risk. We're fortunate in Ann Arbor to have abundant park spaces, grocery stores and all manner of farmers' markets. For some families, however, these amenities may be out of reach. 

My source for the information above is the Childhood Obesity, Ann Arbor MI, 2013 Report from Washtenaw County Public Health. It describes the weight status of 7,577 children ages 2-17 living in these zip codes: 48103, 48104, 48105, 48108. 

Rec & Ed's role in supporting children's health  
I view Rec & Ed as an organization on the front line of keeping kids in the Ann Arbor area healthy. Our mission and values focus on improving the quality of life and promoting wellness for all ages -- pre-school through adults. We serve upwards of 18,000 Ann Arbor area children each year through our recreational sports, after school programming, summer camps and child care programs. Building lifelong enjoyment of physical activity is integral to much of this programming. We've also incorporated nutrition education into our child care program and promote healthy eating through Kids in the Kitchen classes and other programs. 
Check out our listing on page 10 of the Directory of Obesity Prevention Programs in Washtenaw County

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