States Where Children Are Struggling With Obesity

August 9, 2018 by Cheyenne Buckingham

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The obesity epidemic in the United States is at an all time high, with nearly 40% of adults reporting body mass index scores of 30 or higher. Children are also affected by obesity. Approximately 30% of 10 to 17 year-old kids are classified as overweight, which includes 16% who are considered obese.

Childhood obesity has major effects on children’s physical, social, and emotional well-being. Obese children are very likely to become obese adults and more likely to develop diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other conditions at a younger age.

In some parts of the United States, the childhood obesity rate is much higher than in others. To identify the states where children are struggling with obesity, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed obesity rates for 10 to 17 year old state residents from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health.

As it has among adults, the obesity rate among children in the United States has risen dramatically over the past several decades.

Genetic background, environmental factors, lifestyle preferences, and other variables have contributed to the rising prevalence of obesity and its concentration in certain parts of the United States. Excessive sugary drink intake, increased meal portion size, and reduced physical activity have been shown to lead to higher obesity rates in communities.

State level data show that among other notable factors, high childhood obesity is associated with household income, the ability of families to afford nutritious foods, as well as television consumption.

For reference, the typical household in America earns an annual income of $57,617. And 66.1% of parents nationwide say they can always afford healthy meals for their children.

According to the NSCH, 8.5% of U.S. residents under 18 years-old watch more than four hours of TV on an average weekday.

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50. New Hampshire
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 8.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 26.6% (11th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 5.8% (6th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 74.9% (3rd highest)
> Median household income: $70,936 (7th highest)

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49. Washington
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 8.7%
> Adult obesity rate: 28.6% (19th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.9% (24th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 70.1% (14th highest)
> Median household income: $67,106 (10th highest)

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48. Colorado
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 9.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 22.3% (the lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 6.0% (7th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.2% (23rd highest)
> Median household income: $65,685 (12th highest)

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47. Utah
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 9.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.4% (5th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 6.2% (9th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 70.3% (12th highest)
> Median household income: $65,977 (11th highest)

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46. Oregon
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 10.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 28.7% (20th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.4% (16th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 64.4% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $57,532 (21st highest)

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45. Hawaii
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 11.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 23.8% (3rd lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 9.1% (13th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 69.5% (16th highest)
> Median household income: $74,511 (5th highest)

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44. Kansas
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 11.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.2% (22nd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.0% (23rd highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 68.5% (18th highest)
> Median household income: $54,935 (23rd lowest)

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43. Vermont
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 11.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.1% (12th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 4.7% (2nd lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 69.3% (17th highest)
> Median household income: $57,677 (20th highest)

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42. Montana
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 12.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.5% (7th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.5% (19th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.3% (21st highest)
> Median household income: $50,027 (11th lowest)

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41. North Carolina
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 12.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.8% (16th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.5% (17th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 60.9% (10th lowest)
> Median household income: $50,584 (12th lowest)

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40. Wyoming
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 12.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.7% (16th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 4.5% (the lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 64.4% (18th lowest)
> Median household income: $59,882 (19th highest)

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39. South Dakota
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.6% (23rd lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.0% (13th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.3% (21st highest)
> Median household income: $54,467 (22nd lowest)

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38. New Mexico
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 28.3% (18th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 9.3% (10th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 60.9% (10th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,748 (7th lowest)

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37. Minnesota
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 26% (9th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.1% (14th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 71.3% (9th highest)
> Median household income: $65,599 (13th highest)

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36. Connecticut
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.8% (17th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.4% (16th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 72.9% (5th highest)
> Median household income: $73,433 (6th highest)

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35. Michigan
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.9% (25th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.8% (23rd lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 65.0% (21st lowest)
> Median household income: $52,492 (18th lowest)

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34. Maine
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 13.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.5% (10th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 5.4% (4th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 64.5% (19th lowest)
> Median household income: $53,079 (19th lowest)

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33. Missouri
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.7% (17th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.9% (24th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 66.0% (24th lowest)
> Median household income: $51,746 (14th lowest)

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32. Virginia
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 29% (22nd lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.2% (22nd highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 71.7% (7th highest)
> Median household income: $68,114 (8th highest)

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31. Pennsylvania
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.3% (25th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.4% (18th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 70.2% (13th highest)
> Median household income: $56,907 (23rd highest)

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30. Nevada
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.8% (8th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 11.5% (the highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 65.8% (22nd lowest)
> Median household income: $55,180 (24th lowest)

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29. Wisconsin
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.7% (23rd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 6.1% (8th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.5% (19th highest)
> Median household income: $56,811 (24th highest)

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28. New York
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.4% (15th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.6% (15th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 66.9% (25th highest)
> Median household income: $62,909 (14th highest)

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27. New Jersey
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 25.5% (7th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 11.2% (3rd highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 76.4% (the highest)
> Median household income: $76,126 (3rd highest)

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26. Illinois
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.4% (15th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.4% (18th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 69.7% (15th highest)
> Median household income: $60,960 (16th highest)

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25. Idaho
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 14.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.6% (18th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.5% (19th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 65.9% (23rd lowest)
> Median household income: $51,807 (15th lowest)

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24. Massachusetts
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 15.0%
> Adult obesity rate: 23.6% (2nd lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 6.7% (11th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 72.8% (6th highest)
> Median household income: $75,297 (4th highest)

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23. Alaska
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 15.4%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.4% (20th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.0% (13th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.4% (20th highest)
> Median household income: $76,440 (2nd highest)

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22. North Dakota
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 15.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.9% (15th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.7% (22nd lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 74.2% (4th highest)
> Median household income: $60,656 (17th highest)

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21. Arizona
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 15.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 29% (22nd lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 10.7% (5th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 61.6% (11th lowest)
> Median household income: $53,558 (20th lowest)

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20. California
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 16.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 25% (4th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.7% (22nd lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 71.0% (10th highest)
> Median household income: $67,739 (9th highest)

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19. Nebraska
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 16.7%
> Adult obesity rate: 32% (13th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 5.7% (5th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 67.0% (24th highest)
> Median household income: $56,927 (22nd highest)

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18. Delaware
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 16.8%
> Adult obesity rate: 30.7% (23rd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 9.8% (9th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 70.7% (11th highest)
> Median household income: $61,757 (15th highest)

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17. Maryland
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 16.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 29.9% (25th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.6% (20th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 75.9% (2nd highest)
> Median household income: $78,945 (the highest)

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16. Iowa
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 17.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 32% (13th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 5.3% (3rd lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 66.4% (25th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,247 (25th lowest)

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15. Florida
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 17.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 27.4% (15th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 9.3% (10th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 59.5% (5th lowest)
> Median household income: $50,860 (13th lowest)

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14. Oklahoma
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.8% (9th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.9% (24th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 53.9% (the lowest)
> Median household income: $49,176 (9th lowest)

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13. South Carolina
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 35.7% (3rd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.6% (15th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 62.6% (12th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,501 (10th lowest)

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12. Alabama
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.3% (12th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 9.2% (12th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 60.3% (6th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,257 (5th lowest)

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11. Indiana
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.5%
> Adult obesity rate: 32.5% (10th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.5% (19th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 63.3% (14th lowest)
> Median household income: $52,314 (16th lowest)

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10. Ohio
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.4% (20th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.8% (14th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 63.4% (15th lowest)
> Median household income: $52,334 (17th lowest)

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9. Georgia
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 18.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 31.5% (19th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.4% (18th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 65.0% (21st lowest)
> Median household income: $53,559 (21st lowest)

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8. Arkansas
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.1%
> Adult obesity rate: 35.7% (3rd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 10.1% (8th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 54.9% (2nd lowest)
> Median household income: $44,334 (3rd lowest)

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7. Tennessee
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 35.5% (5th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 7.9% (24th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 64.0% (16th lowest)
> Median household income: $48,547 (8th lowest)

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6. Rhode Island
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 26.6% (11th lowest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 6.6% (10th lowest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 71.6% (8th highest)
> Median household income: $60,596 (18th highest)

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5. Louisiana
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 34.8% (6th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 11.4% (2nd highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 60.6% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $45,146 (4th lowest)

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4. Kentucky
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.6%
> Adult obesity rate: 34.2% (7th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 10.5% (6th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 62.8% (13th lowest)
> Median household income: $46,659 (6th lowest)

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3. West Virginia
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 19.9%
> Adult obesity rate: 37.7% (the highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 8.3% (21st highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 56.5% (3rd lowest)
> Median household income: $43,385 (2nd lowest)

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2. Texas
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 21.3%
> Adult obesity rate: 33.7% (8th highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 10.4% (7th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 60.6% (8th lowest)
> Median household income: $56,565 (25th highest)

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1. Mississippi
> Childhood obesity rate (age 10-17): 26.2%
> Adult obesity rate: 37.3% (2nd highest)
> Children who watch TV 4+ hrs on avg. weekday: 10.8% (4th highest)
> Families who say they can always afford nutritious meals: 56.6% (4th lowest)
> Median household income: $41,754 (the lowest)

Genetic background, environmental factors, lifestyle preferences, and other variables have contributed to the rising prevalence of obesity and its concentration in certain parts of the United States. A 2015 study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care identified various factors that can lead to obesity including excessive sugary drink intake, increased meal portion size, and reduced physical activity.

Technological developments likely help explain reduced physical activity among children in the United States.

In an email to 24/7 Wall St., agricultural economist at the United States Department of Agriculture Young Jo cited research connecting increased use of technology, declines in physical activity, and obesity. “[P]hysical activity has declined due to technological shift to more sedentary work. In other words, an increase in technological advancement has coincided with an increase in obesity rate in the US.”

About 8.5% of children up to 17 years old nationwide watch more than four hours of TV on an average weekday. In 11 of the 25 states with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity, the share of children watching at least four hours of TV exceeds the national average. In the 25 states with the lowest childhood obesity rate only five exceed the national average.

Television is just one form of technology that’s encouraging children to dismiss playing outside and leading an active lifestyle. Cell phones, computers, and handheld video games are also contributing to children’s sedentary lifestyles. According to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, children ages 8-18 spend approximately 7.5 hours a day using technology.

Income is another potential factor contributing to a higher obesity rate among children, though it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how financial status can contribute to high obesity rates among children, Young noted.

“There is a hypothesis that healthier foods are relatively more expensive and thus low-income households cannot afford low calorie, more nutritious diet. Also, children from low-income households are more likely to live in neighborhoods with less outdoor activity space.”

Nationwide, 66.1% of parents say they can always afford healthy meals for their children. In 14 of the 15 states with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity, an even lower share of parents report they can always put healthy food on the table.

It is important to note that assessing obesity in children is much different and considerably more challenging than for adults, whose bodies for the most part have stopped growing. For children and teenagers BMI can fluctuate wildly between ages as well as between genders.

While the BMI calculation for adults uses weight and height, the calculation for children includes weight, height, age, and sex. The distribution of BMI over a given age cohort is used to determine BMI in children. A BMI within the 5th-85th percentile is considered a healthy range. Anything above the 85th percentile is considered overweight, and above the 95th percentile is indicative of obesity.

To identify the states where children are struggling with obesity, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, a project of the child and adolescent health measurement initiative. The rank is based on the percentage of children ages 10-17 whose weight falls within or above the 95th percentile in each state. 24/7 Wall St. also retrieved data on how many parents claim to be able to afford nutritious foods for their children between the ages of 0-17, the percentage of children of that same age range that watch four or more hours of television per day, and percentage of children ages 6-17 who are physically active at least one hour every day from the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health. The median household income for each state came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.