Adolescent Obesity in the United States

Print More

One out of every six adolescents (ages 12 to 19) is overweight, according to a November report of youth obesity statistics by the National Center for Children in Poverty, and one out of three adolescents is at risk of joining that group.

Using data collected from a variety of sources, this report classifies youth as obese or overweight based on gender- and age-specific Body Mass Index percentiles. The numbers show that weight tends to vary by ethnic group. About 30 percent of non-Hispanic black girls and 27 percent of Mexican-American boys were obese – the highest of any groups and almost double the amount of non-Hispanic white girls (14.5 percent) and boys (16.7 percent). With the exception of black female adolescents, girls ranked lower than boys for every ethnicity.

Obesity rates also vary by geographic region, with the Southeast claiming 8 out of 10 states with the highest rates, and by type of health insurance.

Only 12.7 percent of privately insured adolescents are obese, compared to 24.8 percent of their publicly-insured peers.

The authors of the report suggest that a variety of factors – including lack of physical activity, food insecurity and limited access to healthful foods, and a school environment that is dominated by companies hawking high-fat and high-calorie food and beverages – is to blame. Less than 20 percent of high school students participate in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity everyday, according to a 2009 estimate, and 116.3 million Americans live in areas with low access to full-service supermarkets.

In addition to the risk of long-term individual physical and emotional problems, the authors argue that adolescent obesity is detrimental to the country as a whole, with more than $14 billion per year spent on the excess medical costs of overweight youth and more than a quarter of people between ages 17 and 24 unfit to enlist in the military.

The report offers a variety of recommendations for policymakers at all levels to stem the problem, including increasing access to affordability of healthy foods, monitoring food marketing aimed at youth, and implementing stricter regulations of the quality of food sold at or near schools.

Click here to read the report.