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County, state on healthier end of obesity lists

Officials see policy system changes as key to overall health

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: October 28, 2018, 6:00am

A couple of recent reports from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health indicate that Washington is a fairly healthy state. That observation extends to Clark County.

The national data found that adults and children in Washington ranked toward the bottom of obesity rates. In Washington, 10.1 percent of young people ages 10 to 17 are obese, giving Washington the third-lowest rate in the U.S. And 27.7 percent of adults in Washington are obese, ranking the state 39th in the U.S.

David Hudson, the healthy communities program manager with Clark County Public Health, said that Clark County also trends pretty well in these areas. According to data from the latest Healthy Youth Survey in 2016, Clark County had the fourth-best obesity rate in the state for 10th graders — the grade that has the best survey participation. Hudson said the reason for that has a lot to do with an emphasis on changing policies or focusing on more sustainable alterations.

“We, along with many of our partners in care, focus on policy system changes and environmental changes to increase access to physical activity and healthy eating,” Hudson said.

According to that Healthy Youth Survey, 72 percent of the 10th-graders surveyed were in a healthy weight range, while 13 percent were overweight, 11 percent were obese and 3 percent were underweight. Hudson explained that obesity can contribute to chronic disease and self-esteem and mental health issues.

Hudson explained that the emphasis should be placed on creating healthier environments for people, which will not only help people physically, but mentally as well. Those changes are also more sustainable and aren’t based on attractiveness, but rather place an emphasis on overall health.

Some of the important policies Hudson referenced were school cafeterias placing fruits and vegetables in more prominent areas, such as the front of the lunch line. He also cited school backpack programs, where kids can take food home with them for the weekend, as well as farmers markets becoming more accessible to low-income people. Creating more walkable and bikeable cities, as well as improving public transit — since people walk or bike to and from it — are other ways communities can increase health outcomes.

Hudson said that many of these rankings dip for low-income populations and communities of color. He said that’s why it’s important to continue improving many of these area.

“There’s a lot of work that has been done, and that still needs to be done,” Hudson said.