Overweight/Obese Students, by Grade Level (State Only)
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Learn More About Weight

Measures of Weight on Kidsdata.org
On kidsdata.org, indicators of weight include:
  • Percentage of public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9 who are overweight or obese per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition, by county, city (20,000 residents or more), and grade (state-level only).
  • Percentage of public school students in grades 5, 7, and 9 who are at a healthy weight or 
    underweight per the California Department of Education definition, by grade, gender and grade, and race/ethnicity and grade (county- and school district-level). Only data for 2011-2013 are presented because data from earlier years are not comparable because new standards were applied to the body composition fitness area. 
Regarding the healthy weight or underweight measure, data pre- and post-2011 are not comparable because new standards were applied to the body composition fitness area that year. Data before 2011 are not provided on kidsdata.org.
Weight
Demographics of Children with Special Needs
Nutrition
Physical Fitness
Why This Topic Is Important
According to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an estimated 17% of children ages 2-19 are obese (defined as having a Body Mass Index, BMI, at or above the 95th percentile for age and gender per the 2000 CDC growth charts). This rate has nearly tripled over the past three decades (1). Obese children are at risk for a range of social and physical health problems including low self-esteem, discrimination from others, joint problems, sleep apnea, and asthma (2). Obese children, along with overweight children (defined as having a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile), are more likely to develop diabetes and heart disease; in addition, they are likely to stay overweight or obese as adults, placing them at increased risk for serious chronic diseases (3). Obesity’s impact also extends beyond the individual; studies estimate that U.S. medical care costs related to obesity may have totaled more than $140 billion in 2008, and costs are projected to rise to $344 billion by 2018 if current trends continue (4, 5).

Research indicates that many factors may contribute to the growth in childhood obesity. For example, the rise in obesity is attributed to increased consumption of non-nutritious "junk" food and large portions; less time for families to prepare meals at home; soda consumption; less physical education at school; increase in sedentary activities, such as TV and computer use; exposure to advertisements for food; community development patterns that encourage driving and discourage walking; and decreasing safe spaces for children to play outdoors (6). Research also has shown significant racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in obesity prevalence among U.S. children and adolescents (7, 8).
Find more information and research about weight in the Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Data and statistics: Obesity rates among all children in the United States. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/data.html.

2.  Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Basics about childhood obesity. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/basics.html

3.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. Retrieved from: http://healthypeople.gov/2020/LHI/nutrition.aspx.

4.  Finkelstein, E. A., et al. (2009). Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer-and service-specific estimates. Health Affairs, 28(5), 822-831.

5.  Thorpe, K. (2009). The future costs of obesity: National and state estimates of the impact of obesity on direct health care expenses. United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/CostofObesityReport-FINAL.pdf

6.  Anderson, P. M., & Butcher, K. F. (2006). Childhood obesity: Trends and potential causes. The Future of Children, 16(1), 19-45. Retrieved from: http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/16_01_02.pdf

7.  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2010). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries, 59(SS-5). Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf

8.  Trust for America’s Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2008). F as in Fat: How obesity policies are failing in America. Retrieved from: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2008/Obesity2008Report.pdf
How Children Are Faring
In 2013, the percentage of California public school students at a healthy weight or underweight was about 53% for 5th graders, 56% for 7th graders, and 59% for 9th graders, similar to the previous year. Figures vary widely at the local level. For example, among counties, the percentage of 7th graders at or below a healthy weight ranged from 41% to 78% in 2013. Statewide, a higher percentage of girls are at or below a healthy weight than boys in grades 5, 7, and 9. Among racial/ethnic groups in California, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, and African American/Black students have the lowest percentages at or below a healthy weight, whereas Asian American, white, multiracial, and Filipino students have the highest. 

Based on a separate analysis of 2005-2010 data by UCLA and the Center for Public Health Advocacy, the percentage of California 5th, 7th, and 9th graders who were overweight or obese (according to the CDC's definition) held steady from 2005 to 2010, hovering around 38%. These data, too, varied widely by county (25% to 47% in 2010) and by city (11% to 53%, among cities with available data). At the state level, the percentage of 5th graders who were overweight/obese consistently was higher than the percentages for 7th and 9th graders.
Policy Implications

California has been a leader in advancing policies to combat childhood overweight and obesity, from banning soft drinks and unhealthful food in schools to requiring nutrition labeling in chain restaurants (1). Yet the state continues to battle an overweight/obesity epidemic among children. While the rise in obesity may be leveling off overall, significant disparities persist by race/ethnicity and income (2). Obesity rates are greater for low-income youth compared to more affluent youth—particularly among boys—and for African American/Black and Latino youth as compared to white and Asian American youth (3). Reducing childhood obesity requires equitable access to safe places to play, affordable healthful foods and beverages, and less access to high-calorie and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks (4, 5). Public policy can make a difference by changing the environment in which children make food choices, live, and play. 

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could influence children’s weight include:

  • Continuing to enforce and extend legislation that restricts sales of unhealthful food and drinks in schools; increases the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water in schools; and improves the nutritional quality of other foods and drinks sold at school (1, 4, 5)
  • Funding and facilitating physical education and nutrition and garden programs at school (4, 5)
  • Supporting and planning for a built environment in schools and communities that encourages walking, bicycling, and outdoor play (4, 5)
  • Targeting anti-obesity efforts in a way that addresses racial/ethnic and income disparities, including increasing access to affordable healthful food (4)
  • Promoting greater school and student participation in the School Breakfast Program, as eating a healthful breakfast can help regulate food consumption throughout the day, increase intake of micronutrients, and decrease obesity (6)
  • Supporting public education efforts to promote healthful eating and active living (3)
  • Improving nutritional content of school lunches, particularly free and reduced price meals (7)
  • Increasing breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity, a priority strategy in the CDC’s efforts to decrease the rate of childhood obesity (8)

For more policy ideas about promoting healthy weight and fitness among children, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or California Project LEANAction for Healthy Kids, and the ENACT Local Policy Database. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Physical Fitness, Free/Reduced Price School Meals and Nutrition/Breakfast. 

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California Center for Public Health Advocacy. (n.d.). State legislation. Retrieved from: http://www.publichealthadvocacy.org/legislation.html  

2.  Pan, L., et al. (2012). Trends in the prevalence of extreme obesity among U.S. preschool-aged children living in low-income families, 1998-2010. JAMA, 308(24), 2563-2565. Retrieved from: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1487493%20

3.  Huh, D., et al. (2012). Female overweight and obesity in adolescent development trends and ethnic differences in prevalence, incidence, and remission. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 41(1). 76-85. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3413457/

4.  California Department of Public Health, California Obesity Prevention Program. (2010). 2010 California obesity prevention plan: A vision for tomorrow, strategic actions for today. Retrieved from: http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/COPP/Documents/COPP-ObesityPreventionPlan-2010.pdf.pdf

5.  Lanza, A., et al. (2012). How the built environment contributes to the adolescent obesity epidemic: A multifaceted approach. Vanderbilt Research Journal, Vol. 8. Retrieved from: http://www.homiletic.net/index.php/vurj/issue/view/182

6.  California Food Policy Advocates. (2010). The benefits of breakfast: Health & academics. Retrieved from: http://www.breakfastfirst.org/pdfs/HealthAndAcademicBenefits.pdf

7.  Taber, D. R., et al. (2013). Association between state laws governing school meal nutrition content and student weight status. JAMA Pediatrics. Retrieved from: http://www.rwjf.org/en/research-publications/find-rwjf-research/2013/04/association-between-state-laws-governing-school-meal-nutrition-c.html

8.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). California state nutrition, physical activity, and obesity profile. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/fundedstates/california.html

Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports