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Nov. 29, 2022

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Survey results: More Cowlitz County teens classified as obese following pandemic

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LONGVIEW — More children were classified as obese nationally, statewide and locally following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recent studies and surveys.

From 2018 to 2020, obesity levels among Americans 2- to 19-years-old increased from 19 percent to 22 percent overall, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. School closures, disrupted routines, increased stress and less opportunity for physical activity and proper nutrition factored into the change, the study states.

The percent of adolescents in Washington and Cowlitz County who were classified as obese also increased from 2018 to 2021, according to Healthy Youth Survey results. The percentage is determined based on the student’s self-reported weight and height, which is used to calculate body mass index, or BMI.

The study state the results could be misleading. According to the survey’s analytical report, BMI is a “problematic and limited metric for assessing the overall health of a community or individual.” Research shows focusing on an end weight goal is not as effective as as using a “weight neutral approach,” the report states.

Cowlitz County adolescents in 8th and 10th grades had higher rates of obesity than the state, according to the survey.

In 2021, 25 percent of Cowlitz County 10th graders surveyed were obese, compared to 16 percent statewide. The percent of surveyed Cowlitz County 8th graders with obesity was also above the state average at 22 percent, compared to 17 percent.

Nationwide, about 15.5 percent of students in grades nine through 12 had obesity in 2019, the most recent year of available CDC data. Washington and Oregon are not included in a state-by-state breakdown of the data. The CDC also measures obesity based on adolescents’ BMI.

State-level data for younger ages is limited. In 2020, 14.8 percent of Washington 2- to 4-year-olds receiving assistance through the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program were obese. This number has increased over the last four years, after a decrease the prior eight years.

Obesity puts children and adults at risk for other chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and asthma, according to the CDC. Childhood obesity can also lead to bullying and stigma, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

Several factors contribute to obesity, including the types and amounts of food, physical activity, and sleep routines as well as access and affordability of healthy food, peer and social support and what community someone lives in, according to the CDC.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a Lee Enterprises package on healthy youth. Read about how local organizations are creating healthy ties between youth and food, and how the nation is seeing similar adolescent obesity rates.

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