North Dakota's youth are relatively trim compared to those nationwide, and certainly more so than the adults in the state.

That's the immediate takeaway from new data released today in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The organization found 8,500 children age 10 to 17 in the state are obese, totaling 13.4% — just below the national average of 15.3%.

Meanwhile the state's adult obesity rate tops 35%, making it only one of nine states with such a high rate of obesity, according to a different recent study.

The state's youth obesity rate has held steady in recent years, with the most recent study putting North Dakota at 33rd among states, the foundation's study said. Mississippi child obesity rate stands at 25.4%. Utah had the lowest at 8.7%.

Regionally, South Dakota's childhood obesity rate stood at 11.9% while Minnesota's stood at 9.4%.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The data shows significant disparities tied to race and income level, not just geography. Black and Hispanic youth had obesity rates higher than White or Asian youth. And 22% of youth in households making less than the federal poverty level were obese, more than double the rate of obese youth in households making four times as much.

“These differences by race, ethnicity, and geography did not happen by chance," said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a news release. "They are a result of discriminatory policies and systems that have been in place for decades. However, we have the power to change these outcomes and make our nation a more equitable society. The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them. ”

Obesity matters because it can put those with it — be they children or adults — at great risk for many other diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. And according to one study, preventing obesity early in life matters, leading to lower rates of obesity by age 14.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation identified a number of policy shifts that have lowered obesity rates among children in recent years, including healthier school meals and snacks, and healthy updates to the food packages provided through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

A spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Health said the department couldn't comment on the study's results by this article's publish time.

The data comes from the 2017 and 2018 National Survey of Children’s Health along with analysis conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau.