The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s study on progress of childhood obesity showed that between 2010 and 2011 Alabama’s rate of obese low-income preschool children remained at 14.1 percent. That’s above the national rate of 12 percent. Neighboring Florida and Georgia were among the leading states in decreasing numbers in the study, showing an almost 1 percent drop in childhood obesity rates. Mississippi also saw a decline, while Tennessee was one of three states that saw an increase.
“The one bright side I can say for the study is that we didn’t go up,” said Molly Killman, the assistant director of Nutrition and Physical Activity Division of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “But there’s still a lot of room for improvement and some work.”
Killman said the study didn’t explore the reasons for high obesity rates in the state, but said many factors including poverty and poor adult health can lead to high childhood rates of obesity.
“We do have initiatives coming in the next several years to address the problem,” said Killman, explaining a program the department is implementing will put more dietary and physical activity policies in place at childcare centers. Killman said the state’s Obesity Task Force is also looking into the study and will meet later this month to discuss the findings.
But having policies in place and enforcing them are two different things, said Krista Casazza, a professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama Birmingham.
“There’s a whole lifestyle change involved,” Casazza said. “And in Alabama it doesn’t seem that people are embracing it, because they’re too busy, or they’ve been hit hard by tough economic times, or they don’t want to put in the hard work to make changes.”
Casazza said the lack of positive changes in getting adults to eat healthier and embrace regular exercise in Alabama has affected children’s attitude toward healthier living. And the trend has continued to increase in children at younger and younger ages, contributing to an alarming trend of childhood obesity, she said.
“You walk into any restaurant and you see these electronic devices babysitting children,” Casazza said. “They used to be running around like kids, now they sit there with an iPad, and they’re eating the same food as their parents.”
While Alabama’s child obesity rate didn’t change any between 2010 and 2011, it did see a decrease between 2009 and 2010, but only after an increase the previous year.
In 2008, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study said Calhoun County’s obesity rate for the entire population was 38 percent.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.