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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Mountain West has better-than-average childhood obesity rates, but officials still seek improvement

Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

News brief: 

The Biden administration announced a plan last week to improve the nation’s nutrition and health. Its goals include promoting exercise, improving food access and affordability and decreasing obesity for both adults and children.

Obesity affects more than one in six children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jamie Bussel, senior program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said obesity rates rose during the pandemic because kids often couldn’t get outside during normal school hours. Many families also faced economic constraints that limited nutrition.

“With resources being stretched ever thinner these days, many families are forced to prioritize things like paying rent over putting healthy food on the table,” Bussel said.

Obesity statistics show the Mountain West fares better than the rest of the country. Utah and Colorado have some of the lowest childhoodobesity rates among all states, and every state in the Mountain West is better than average when it comes to adult weight statistics.

Bussel said people tend to be more active in the region, and that certain states have prioritized access to healthy meals in their policies. Living at altitude has also been associated with lower obesity rates.

Still, Bussel says all states can do more to reduce inequality, increase food assistance and school meal funding, and support physical exercise. Lower-income families and communities of color are disproportionately affected by obesity, according to the CDC. Excess weight increases the risks of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It can also limit respiratory function and affect memory.

“In many ways, you have the pandemic and the epidemic of childhood obesity really reinforcing one another,” Bussel said. “Made worse because unhealthy food is cheap.”

Biden’s conference on health and nutrition was the first held by the White House since 1969. His plan aims to end hunger nationwide by 2030.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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