Special Report

This Is Where Kentucky Childhood Obesity Ranks in the US

The percentage of children and adolescents who are not just overweight but obese has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2018, nearly one in five children between the age of 2 and 19 were obese.

Childhood obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.

Of the 42 states for which there is data on adolescent obesity, Kentucky is the state with the 6th largest share of high school students who are obese at 18.4%. In comparison, about one in seven, or 15.5%, of high schoolers nationwide are considered obese.

Additionally, 17.8% of students in ninth to 12th grade are overweight, the 9th highest share in the country and compared to 16.1% across the U.S.

Poverty is a potential factor contributing to a higher obesity rate among younger people. Healthier foods that tend to be lower in calories and more nutritious are relatively more expensive and may be less affordable to low-income households. About 21.7% of children under 18 in Kentucky live in poverty, the 5th highest share in the country. The U.S. child poverty is 16.8%.

Kentucky has the second highest rate of residents with limited access to healthy foods at 5.6% compared to 5.9% of people across the country as a whole.

Health experts have pointed to several lifestyle factors that are likely contributing to the excess weight problem among Americans, among them a sedentary lifestyle. About 61.2% of communities in Kentucky are built in a way that promotes physical activity — which means having plenty of sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, and walking paths. This is the 13th lowest share in the country. Across the U.S., 74.9% of communities are built in such a way.

About 58.8% of children between 2 and 19 years old in the state have easy access to parks and playgrounds, the 8th lowest in the U.S. and compared to 76.5% of 2- to 19-year-olds in the country as a whole.

Of the 37 states for which data on physical activity among children is available, Kentucky has the 18th lowest share of children who exercise five or more days a week at 40.6%. Nationwide, 46.5% are physically active that often.

To determine the states where children in high school — ninth to 12th graders — are struggling with obesity, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2019 data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. We ranked the states based on the reported youth obesity rate as of 2019, the latest year for which data is available. These are the states with the highest rates of obesity among high schoolers.

 

State High schoolers who are obese High schoolers who are overwight Families with limited access to healthy foods Children with easy access to park/playground Poverty rate (under 18)
Mississippi 23.4% 18.0% 10.7% 46.4% 28.1%
West Virginia 22.9% 16.5% 6.6% 56.7% 20.1%
Arkansas 22.1% 19.8% 8.7% 55.1% 22.1%
Tennessee 20.9% 18.3% 8.5% 58.1% 19.7%
Missouri 18.4% 16.1% 6.8% 71.2% 17.1%
Kentucky 18.4% 17.8% 5.6% 58.8% 21.7%
Georgia 18.3% 18.1% 9.0% 68.0% 18.7%
Oklahoma 17.6% 18.1% 8.6% 64.4% 19.9%
Alabama 17.2% 20.1% 7.9% 53.1% 21.4%
Iowa 17.0% 15.9% 5.6% 77.1% 13.0%
Texas 16.9% 17.8% 8.7% 74.2% 19.2%
South Carolina 16.6% 16.3% 9.1% 56.3% 19.7%
Louisiana 16.5% 17.8% 9.5% 59.0% 27.0%
Hawaii 16.4% 14.4% 6.9% 87.2% 12.4%
California 15.9% 15.2% 3.3% 87.5% 15.6%
North Carolina 15.4% 16.0% 6.7% 56.7% 19.5%
Pennsylvania 15.4% 14.5% 4.6% 81.8% 16.9%
Michigan 15.3% 16.1% 6.3% 76.6% 17.6%
New Mexico 15.2% 15.8% 14.0% 70.9% 24.9%
Illinois 15.2% 15.5% 4.5% 89.2% 15.7%
Kansas 15.1% 15.7% 8.3% 77.3% 14.7%
Maine 14.9% 14.8% 3.8% 70.2% 13.8%
Virginia 14.8% 15.8% 4.3% 69.8% 13.4%
Alaska 14.8% 15.0% 9.2% 73.0% 13.0%
Wisconsin 14.5% 14.6% 4.8% 78.9% 13.5%
Connecticut 14.4% 14.9% 4.3% 76.2% 14.1%
Rhode Island 14.3% 14.6% 4.7% 83.9% 14.0%
South Dakota 14.1% 15.6% 10.5% 79.8% 15.0%
North Dakota 14.0% 16.5% 7.0% 81.8% 10.2%
Florida 14.0% 16.1% 7.2% 73.4% 17.7%
New York 13.4% 16.3% 2.3% 88.6% 18.1%
Arizona 13.3% 17.4% 7.5% 81.9% 19.1%
Nebraska 13.3% 12.8% 5.6% 84.5% 11.0%
Vermont 13.1% 13.7% 3.3% 73.0% 10.2%
Maryland 12.8% 15.7% 3.4% 82.7% 12.0%
New Hampshire 12.7% 14.0% 5.0% 69.2% 7.1%
Nevada 12.3% 16.7% 5.4% 80.1% 16.9%
Idaho 12.1% 12.4% 7.1% 72.8% 13.2%
New Jersey 11.9% 14.7% 3.6% 88.9% 12.3%
Montana 11.5% 13.0% 8.3% 73.3% 14.9%
Colorado 10.3% 11.7% 5.5% 87.9% 10.9%
Utah 9.8% 12.3% 5.8% 89.7% 9.9%