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Obesity and overweight rates are falling among SoCal kids, but not equally

Carlos Castro, left, and Michele Canete go through the lunch line at Gratts Learning Academy for Young Scholars in Los Angeles. The district is implementing "California Thursdays," which will ensure the ingredients in the lunches are sourced from within 200 miles of Los Angeles.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Carlos Castro, left, and Michele Canete go through the lunch line at Gratts Learning Academy for Young Scholars in Los Angeles.

Obesity and overweight rates are falling among Southern California kids, but some groups – including Latinos and African-Americans - are seeing slower declines, according to a new study by Kaiser Permanente published Friday in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Kaiser researchers studied 1.3 million kids between 2 and 19 years old from 2008-13, and found the overall obesity rate fell by 8 percent, from 19 percent to 17.5 percent.  The rate of overweight kids dropped by 6 percent, from about 36 percent to just under 34 percent.

While the study found declines among all age, racial and ethnic groups, some were doing better than others. Children aged 2 to 11, boys, whites and Asians experienced the largest drops. Teenagers, girls, Latinos, African-Americans and kids living in low-income and low-education areas saw smaller improvements. The study calls for obesity-reduction efforts specifically targeting those groups. 

Childhood and adolescent obesity rose significantly in the last three decades. By 2012 more than one third of all minors were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While other recent studies have shown a plateauing of childhood obesity rates,  the Kaiser study is the first to show any decline in the rates, said study lead author Corinna Koebnick of the research and evaluation section of  Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

The study cited a previous review of 8 million California students in grades 5, 7, and 9 that found a decline in obesity rates from 2005 to 2008 among white and Asian youth, a plateauing among Latinos, and an increase among African-Americans and Native American girls.

Researchers have linked obesity during adolescence to a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

"Obesity is a serious issue that can continue into adulthood, which is why it is important to tackle it early on," Koebnick said.

The Kaiser Permanente study suggests state efforts to provide healthier foods and ban sugary sodas from schools may be having an impact. 

Koebnick said Kaiser's researchers plan to tackle the question of why obesity and overweight rates are falling, and why they're falling more slowly for some.

Highlights from the study:

  • The obesity rate fell from 19.1 percent to 17.5 percent among all kids between 2008 and 2013
  • The overweight rate fell from 35.9 percent to 33.7 percent among all kids during that time
  • Obesity declined among boys by 9.3 percent
  • Obesity declined among girls by 7.2 percent
  • Obesity declined among kids 2-5 years old by 15.4 percent
  • Obesity declined among 6-11 year olds by 11.8 percent
  • Obesity declined among adolescents 12-19 years old by 4.5 percent
  • Obesity declined among white children by 12.6 percent
  • Obesity declined among Asian/Pacific Islander children by 12.2 percent
  • Obesity declined among African-American children by 7.5 percent
  • Obesity declined among Latino children by 6.9 percent