PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Childhood obesity rates are on the rise in the Ocean State, according to a recently-released report by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.
The report reveals that, in 2020, 35% of Rhode Island children between the ages of 2 and 17 were either overweight or obese, as compared to 31% the year prior.
“This new data clearly shows that we need to continue to carefully track childhood overweight and obesity,” Rhode Island KIDS COUNT policy analyst Kaitlyn Rabb said. “The trend was going down from 2016-2019, but since the onset of the pandemic we have seen an increase that has wiped out previous progress.”
Prior to the pandemic, the report states that only five Rhode Island cities and towns had childhood overweight and obesity rates above 36%.
That number has more than doubled, with 11 communities either reaching or exceeding that percentile.
The communities with the highest childhood overweight and obesity rates include Central Falls (52%), Woonsocket (48%), Pawtucket (43%), North Providence (43%), Johnston (39%), New Shoreham (39%), East Providence (38%), Providence (36%), Burrillville (36%), and West Warwick (36%).
The state’s “core cities,” which consist of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, saw a significant increase from year’s past, reaching a combined 40% in 2020.
Both Hispanic and Black children in Rhode Island are disproportionally impacted, according to the report, with 41% of both populations being either overweight or obese. (As compared to 32% and 27% of white and Asian children, respectively.)
The report also states that 25% of Rhode Island children covered by public health insurance are overweight or obese, as compared to 15% of children covered by private health insurance.
“We need to look at the root causes of this increase and the ongoing disparities in rates by race, ethnicity, and insurance status – and act to address these root causes,” Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Deputy Director Stephanie Geller said. “This includes ensuring equitable access to nutritious and affordable foods for families and increasing opportunities for safe and accessible physical activity for all children in their schools and communities.”