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New Data on Colorado’s Child Obesity Rate

At CHI, we get pretty excited when a new batch of Colorado health data is released. March, then, was a pretty exciting month on that front: first KIDS COUNT!, then the 2012 Colorado Health Report Card and, finally, the County Health Rankings.

This week, a new data source joins that group: The 2011/12 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). While the Colorado Child Health Survey also provides valuable data on Colorado’s child obesity rate, the NSCH is one of the only sources to compare data on the physical, mental and oral health status of children in all 50 states. It comes out every four years, making its release heavily anticipated by those in the health data world.

Data is gradually being added to the NSCH website, but at CHI we did our own analysis on child obesity.

Colorado’s child obesity rate has declined slightly from the last time the survey was completed. In 2007, 14.2 percent of Colorado’s children between 10 and 17 were obese – which means they had a BMI at or above the 95th percentile. The rate fell to 10.9 percent in the latest survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

It’s important to note that the change between 2007 and 2011/12 wasn’t statistically significant, meaning that it was within the margin of error for the survey. Still, the new data could be a sign of early progress in this important health indicator. 

We need to keep in mind the context behind this number. The child obesity rate nationally has increased exponentially over the past few decades, tripling since the 1970s, according to another survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s also important to remember that, even viewing this data in its most positive light, approximately one of every ten Colorado children is obese. When we factor in overweight children as well, that number rises to one in four. Clearly, this is a battle that hasn’t been won.

In addition, disparities among children persist across Colorado. Hispanic children are around twice as likely to be obese as white children. Children below the poverty level are approximately six times as likely to be obese compared to children with incomes above 400 percent of the federal poverty level. (In 2011, the federal poverty level was $22,350 for a family of four.)

The NSCH joins another important data source, the Colorado Child Health Survey, which provides annual data on the health of Colorado’s children. The latest data from the 2011 survey indicated Colorado’s child obesity rate was 16.3 percent, though that measured children between the ages of 2 and 14, as opposed to the ages of between 10 and 17 in the NSCH.

For more about the differences between the Child Health Survey and the NSCH, check out our FAQs here.

All of these different sources, with different data, may leave you wondering which is “best.” The answer is that they all bring a different perspective to the question of “How healthy is Colorado?” They each aim to answer different questions, bringing unique strengths and weaknesses to the conversation. There is no “right” estimate for the number of Colorado kids who are obese. Instead, we have a number of estimates that inform different aspects of the challenge we face as a state in addressing it.

So what lessons can we draw from this new data? While the NSCH isn’t the end-all and be-all of child obesity data, it does suggest that the state’s obesity rate is stabilizing. Obesity is a complicated, multi-faceted problem that can’t be addressed overnight, and this new data point certainly doesn’t mean that the issue is “solved.” It will continue to take all of us working together across the state to move the needle significantly.

Colorado leaders are working to make Colorado the healthiest state, and resources like the National Survey of Children’s Health show us how we compare to the other 49 states. The Colorado Health Report Card shows what needs to change in Colorado to achieve that goal. The County Health Rankings help state leaders as well as local leaders and communities identify where resources and attention may create greatest impact. And we at CHI are here to help make sense of the data and what it means for the health of all Coloradans.