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Arnold School of Public Health
University of South Carolina
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Columbia, SC 29208

Phone: 803-777-5032
Fax: 803-777-4783

 

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                                                                                                           Posted 09/14/2007

USC report finds overweight, obese kids more likely
 to live in rural America


The nation's first report on obesity and physical inactivity among rural youth shows that children living in rural areas are more likely to be overweight or obese than their urban peers.
 
The report, which uses data from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health, found that 30.6 percent of children ages 10 - 17 are overweight and 14.8 percent of these are obese. Rural children (16.5 percent) were more likely to be obese than urban children (14.4 percent).
 
The finding dispels the belief that children living in rural and farm communities are more likely to be physically active because of chores and opportunities to play in areas with wide expanses of land and fresh air.
 
Conducted by the S.C. Rural Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health, the report gives national and individual state data and highlights weight-related health behaviors, such as youth participation in after-school sports programs, use of electronic media, safety concerns and family eating patterns.
 
"Recent studies have suggested that childhood obesity is rising faster in rural communities in specific states - Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Michigan, West Virginia and North Carolina," said Dr. Jan Probst, the center director and a contributing author on the report.
 
"While this report puts in perspective the number of children who are overweight or obese in each state, it also sheds light on the very real problems that exist for children in rural areas," she said. "Rural children often have limited access to schools, playgrounds and parks that provide opportunities for physical activity and sports." 
 
Although the District of Columbia leads the nation in the percentage of obese children (22.9), more than 20 percent of children in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee are obese. Wyoming and Utah tie for the lowest percentage (8.6) of obese children.
 
The report also assessed the proportion of children who fail to obtain at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on three days a week, the minimum recommendation from the Centers for Disease and Control in 2003.
 
Maryland is No. 1 in the proportion of children (38.5 percent) who fail to meet this physical activity minimum but 16 states and Washington, D.C., have more than 30 percent of youth failing to meet the recommendations.
 
South Carolina leads the nation in the percentage of children (54.5 percent) who don't participate in after-school team sports or lessons, while Vermont's children are the most likely to participate in these programs.
 
The report found that more than 50 percent of children in 16 states are plugged into electronic media more than two hours a day. With 57.6 percent of its children using computers for entertainment, playing video games and watching television, New Jersey has the most children using electronic media more than two hours.
 
"These numbers show us that we need to be doing more for the health of our children," said Dr. Jihong Liu, the study's lead author and an Arnold School of Public Health researcher. "Community, policy and public-health leaders must work with lawmakers, educators, doctors and other healthcare professionals to help solve the problems of childhood obesity before these numbers increase.
 
"As today's children reach adulthood, they are at an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and respiratory and joint problems, which are linked to being overweight, obese and physically inactive," Liu said.
 

 Highlights of the report
 
 
By analyzing data from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health, researchers at the S.C. Rural Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health have compiled the following information on the number of children who are overweight or obese in rural and urban settings: 
 
Minority Stats: Minority children are more likely to be overweight than either rural or urban children. Black children (41.2 percent) are more likely to be overweight than Hispanic (38 percent) and white (26.7 percent) children. 
 
  Nearly one in four children is obese (23.6 percent) v. 19 percent for Hispanic children and 12 percent for white children. 
 
  Rural South: Children living in the rural South are more likely to be overweight (34.5 percent) and obese (19.5 percent). Children in the West are the least likely to be overweight (27.1 percent) or obese (12.4 percent).
     
  Physical Activity: Nearly 30 percent of the nation's children fail to meet the recommended physical activity levels - participation in moderate to vigorous exercises for at least 20 minutes three or more days a week - set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 
 
  School Sports: More than two out of five children (41.2 percent) do not participate in any after-school sport teams or lessons. 
 
  Electronic Media: About half of the nation's children spend at least two hours a day using the computer for non-educational purposes, playing video games and watching television. 
 
  Mother's Activity: A mother's physical activity level often influences her children. Rural Hispanic (47.9 percent) and black children (43.9 percent) are more likely to have inactive mothers than rural whites (36.8 percent). Physical inactivity was measured by not participating in moderate to vigorous exercise for 20 minutes or more on most days of the week. 
 
  Rural v. Urban: 30 percent of children ages 10 - 17 are overweight, 14.8 percent of whom are obese. Rural children (16.5 percent) are more likely to be obese than urban children (14.4 percent). 
 
  Safety: Rural children (20.1 percent) are less likely to live in an environment that is perceived to be unsafe than urban children (25.7 percent). The proportion of children living in settings that are perceived to be unsafe ranged from 11.6 percent in Vermont to 50 percent in Washington, D.C. 
 
  Family meals: One in four of the nation's children eat with their families three or fewer days per week. More than 25 percent of urban children have fewer family meals than rural children (21.9 percent).
 
 
 Top numbers:
 
 
Highest Proportion of Overweight Children:
#1 Washington, D.C. (2 - 10, in order of ranking: Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, Alabama, North Carolina)
 
 
Highest Proportion of Children Who Are Obese:
#1 Washington, D.C. (2- 10, in order of ranking: West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama)
 
 
Highest Proportion of Children Who Fail to Meet Physical Activity Recommendations:
#1 Maryland (2 - 10, in order of ranking: Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Tennessee, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, South Carolina)
 
 
Highest Proportion of Children Who Don't Participate in After-School Sports:
#1 South Carolina (2 - 10, in order of ranking: Mississippi, Florida, Nevada, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee)
 
 
Highest Proportion of Children Who Use Electronic Media More Than 2 Hours A Day:
#1 New Jersey (2 - 10, in order of ranking: Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia)

 

Click here to download the report's executive summary.

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