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New study: North Dakota has nation’s highest rate of overweight kids

A study conducted by finance website WalletHub reported that North Dakota has the nation’s highest rate of overweight kids. (Thinkstock Image)

FARGO — A new study says North Dakota has the nation’s highest percentage of overweight kids.

Finance website WalletHub’s report ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 12 metrics, including the prevalence of obese and overweight residents, unhealthy habits and health consequences of those habits. Data came from several sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WalletHub turned to the National Conference of State Legislatures to get the percentage of overweight kids. The most recent figures from 2011 show 20.4 percent of children 10 to 17 in North Dakota were overweight.

That’s well above Louisiana, the second-worst state at 18.7 percent. New Hampshire did the best at 10.5 percent.

But the statistic can be deceiving. Children with a body mass index (BMI) between the 85th and 94th percentile were considered overweight, while those with a BMI at or above the 95th percentile were counted separately as obese.

That means North Dakota ranked more toward the middle at No. 20 for its percentage of obese kids (15.4 percent).

Deanna Askew, a licensed registered dietitian with the North Dakota Department of Health, said it would be more useful to include obese people in the overweight category, rather than separating the two.

“If that doesn’t, then that’s a really different way of looking at the numbers,” she said, adding WalletHub appears to have used reliable and accurate sources to get its data.

It’s also important to not just focus on BMI or weight to determine if kids are healthy, said Kim Lipetzky, public health nutritionist with Fargo Cass Public Health.

“The main things are do they have a good healthy diet, are they being physically active and are they fit and healthy,” she said.

Other findings

Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with WalletHub, said the finance website often looks into health or wellness issues.

“I think a lot of these problems do affect your money and do affect your wallet, especially how much productivity can be lost from obesity,” she said.

The new study also found North Dakota had the country’s sixth-highest death rate due to obesity, 3.53 deaths per 1,000.

North Dakota also was said to have the 11th-highest percentage of overweight adults with 36.6 percent.

North Dakota had a higher percentage of obese adults than Minnesota with rates of 31 percent and 25.5 percent, respectively.

After crunching the numbers, WalletHub said North Dakota was the 10th-fattest state overall.

The study cited a recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association that found more than three-quarters of American adults are now either overweight or obese.

But Lipetzky and Cheryl Stetz, a community health educator with Fargo Cass Public Health, said there are signs of local progress on these issues.

Several programs are helping kids make healthier choices, whether it’s a more nutritious school lunch, less access to sugary soda in schools or increasing physical activity in child care settings, they said. More work has also been done to promote wellness initiatives in the community and workplace.

While the prevalence of obesity was seemingly skyrocketing not long ago, Lipetzky said officials are seeing that trend start to level off, suggesting there has been some progress.

“I think people are starting to step up to the plate a little bit more and take a look at what they can do to help the whole issue.”

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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