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New Mexico Department of Health Releases Report on Child Obesity

Jun 30, 2020

The New Mexico Department of Health has released its latest overweight and obesity data for children in a report that highlights the need for more resources and increased collaborations across state and local agencies to reach the state’s at-risk populations. The state’s rate has stabilized over the nine years that the Department of Health has collected data.

For kindergarten students, 13.8 percent were overweight and 15.4 percent were obese. For third-grade students, 13.3 percent were overweight and 22.9 percent were obese, according to body mass index (BMI) collections of about 7,400 students across New Mexico in 2019. Both grades have experienced a slight rise in obesity rates since 2014, although the increase is not statistically significant.

“We are following national best practices for obesity prevention by creating more local options for healthy eating and physical activity, but obesity is a complex issue that requires a committed, long-term investment,” said Rita Condon, manager of the Department’s Obesity, Nutrition, and Physical Activity Program.

New Mexico faces specific challenges in addressing childhood obesity, including the state’s high poverty rate estimated at 19.5 percent in 2018. Research has shown that children living in families that earn low incomes are more likely to be obese. In addition, families that live in neighborhoods with limited access to fresh, nutritious and affordable foods can experience hunger and obesity at the same time.

“Healthy eating and physical activity are two major lifestyle behaviors that can help prevent obesity and subsequent chronic disease, but people can’t choose those behaviors unless they have access to healthy food options and feel safe to be active in their communities. We’re seeing progress in the communities where we focus on creating that access,” Condon said.

The Department’s Healthy Kids Healthy Communities Program partners with state and local organizations in 10 counties and three tribal communities that have high rates of poverty and chronic disease. In those communities, multi-sector coalitions create sustainable changes in the food systems, schools and environment by:

  • Expanding healthy options and nutrition education in schools and at food distribution sites
  • Integrating locally grown produce in student and senior meals
  • Establishing farmers markets and gardens for schools, senior centers and the general community
  • Expanding trail systems Improving and promoting parks
  • Establishing safe walking and biking routes that connect neighborhoods to schools and community sites
  • Strengthening school wellness policies
  • Offering students healthy fundraisers as well as physical activity and healthy eating challenges

This year the program is continuing to support healthy eating and physical activity opportunities while ensuring everyone’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, including adjusting activities to follow social-distancing protocols established by the Department of Health.

All of the department’s obesity prevention strategies align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s best practices. The Department began collecting BMI data of third graders and kindergartners in 2010 to monitor trends, identify at-risk populations, and help guide efforts to increase children’s access to healthy foods and physical activity.

Many factors influence childhood obesity, including socioeconomic status, food insecurity and community infrastructure. New Mexico’s obesity trends in the past 10 years include:

  • There is a significant increase in obesity rates between kindergarten and third grade
  • Boys are more likely to be obese than girls.
  • American Indian students have the highest obesity prevalence with 29.3 percent of third graders compared to 24.5 percent of Hispanic students and 15.8 percent of Caucasian students.
  • Obesity among Hispanic third graders has remained relatively unchanged over time.

To view the full obesity report, visit: https://nmhealth.org/data/view/chronic/2381/.