Progress Report: American Indian and Alaska Native Youth

Obesity rates have stabilized among kids in Indian country.

Childhood obesity rates overall remain higher than they were a generation ago, but the rise in rates has slowed in recent years after decades of sharp increases dating back to the early 1970s.

A study released in 2017 shows a long-term plateau in rates of obesity among American Indian and Alaska Native children, a population with disproportionately high obesity rates. According to the largest study to date on overweight and obesity among this population, 18.5% of children ages 2 to 19 were overweight and 29.7% were obese in 2015. These rates have held steady since 2006.

Similar to overall national trends, rates among American Indian and Alaska Native children rise with age: for 2 to 5-year-olds, 17.5% were overweight, 20.7% were obese; for 6 to 11-year-olds, 17.9% were overweight, 31.7% were obese; and for 12 to 19-year-olds, 19.7% were overweight, 33.8% were obese.

The reason for the stabilization is unclear. Study co-author, Ann Bullock, who’s the director of the Indian Health Service Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention, noted that an increased emphasis on childhood obesity across Indian country, efforts by the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, health care practices in Indian Health Service facilities and increased awareness among parents are some things that may have contributed to the stabilization.

When asked about future hopes, Bullock told reporters, “While we hope to see decreases in overweight and obesity in the future, before you go from rising to falling rates, you end up with that point in the middle where things plateau and that’s where we are… we are no longer seeing things getting worse.”

Each year, the researchers analyzed data from more than 184,000 kids ages 2 to 19 who had visited an Indian Health Service, tribal or urban Indian health facility. The authors note that their results cannot be generalized to all American Indian and Alaska Native children because many do not receive care at those facilities.

Originally posted on February 5, 2018.

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