City Child Obesity Rate Almost Twice as Large as Suburban

Jan. 28, 2009
Monroe County’s Kids Mirror National Trends
Darker blue areas indicate a higher concentration of childhood obesity

Nearly 40 percent of children and adolescents living in the City of Rochester are overweight or obese, while 25 percent of children living in the suburbs are overweight or obese, according to a new study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Golisano Children’s Hospital and funded by the Greater Rochester Health Foundation (GRHF).

The study, which is the first to determine the rate of obesity for a representative sample of children and adolescents 2 to 18 years of age in Monroe County, establishes a baseline to examine the effect of community-wide efforts targeting childhood obesity. It also underscores the fact that the city has a larger burden to bear. The county’s overall childhood obesity rate hovers just above 15 percent – a little better than the 17 percent national rate – but the rate in the suburbs is less than 12 percent while the rate in the city is almost 22 percent.

“Think about it this way: Asthma is recognized as a very common chronic health condition among children in the city, with maybe 14 percent being affected. Overweight and obesity is a problem for more than one in three children in the city,” said Stephen Cook, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Golisano Children’s Hospital and author of the study.

The study examined the height, weight, BMI and blood pressure of about 8,000 children in Monroe County. Rochester is an ideal location to do this type of population study because of its diversity of race, socio-economic levels and population densities (urban, suburban and rural). Rochester is also a natural choice because of the area’s history as the home of community pediatrics and the cooperation around children’s health – among hospital systems, schools, community groups, government agencies and private practices.

“This community and the Greater Rochester Health Foundation are putting a lot of effort into addressing childhood obesity in the schools, child care and after-school programs and in our own homes. This baseline study is going to show us, five and 10 years down the road, if our efforts are working to prevent the many life-long medical diseases and illnesses associated with an unhealthy weight,” said John Urban, president and CEO of the foundation. “And based on these numbers, as a community, we have a big challenge ahead of us.”

About 70 percent of children older than 2 years old are normal weight, but 15 percent are overweight and another 15 percent are obese. As they age, more children fall into the obese category (12 percent at 2 to 5 years old and almost 17 percent at 6 to 11 years old).

“But that could also mean that our strategies targeting children at a younger age, when their habits are just forming, are effective,” Cook said. “Still we need to appropriately adapt our effort to the specific populations we target. If we can make a difference among those most affected or at highest risk, the overall health of the community will be greatly improved.”

This project involved reviewing medical records from 22 pediatric and family medicine primary care offices around Monroe County. The sample included data from annual well child visit from approximately 8000 charts at the practices. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Greater Rochester Practice Based Research Network and their affiliated primary care practices, as well as the Children’s Institute.

 The Greater Rochester Health Foundation has dedicated itself to reducing childhood overweight and obesity in Monroe County through by funding programs focused on improving children’s lifestyles and by launching a wide-reaching marketing campaign called “Be a Healthy Hero.” The foundation was established in 2006 to improve the health status of all residents of the Greater Rochester community including people whose unique healthcare needs have not been met because of race, ethnicity or income. GRHF will be good stewards of this valued community asset and will engage diverse populations and organizations in the fulfillment of our mission. Cook is one of several University of Rochester Medical Center physician-researchers who collaborates with the foundation.