By Jamie Ducharme
October 24, 2018

More than a quarter of Mississippi children ages 10 to 17 are obese, giving the state the nation’s highest rate of youth obesity, according to new data.

Nationwide, nearly 16% of kids ages 10 to 17 have obesity, according to a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and based on data from the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). But rates varied significantly from state to state, ranging from Mississippi’s 26.1% to Utah’s 8.7%.

The NSCH was redesigned in 2016, so it’s difficult to compare the current data with past iterations of the survey. The 2016-2017 rate of 15.8%, however, dipped slightly below the 2016 rate of 16.1%, though the change was not statistically significant.

Eight of the 10 states with the highest youth obesity rates are located in the South, the data shows: Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Iowa. (Ohio and Iowa, at numbers six and 10, were the outliers.) Meanwhile, nine of the 10 states with the lowest rates — all but number-four Minnesota — are in the West or Northeast: Utah, New Hampshire, Washington state, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Montana and North Dakota.

Obesity rates also differ depending on racial and ethnic background, consistent with past trends. Nationally, 22.5% of black 10- to 17-year-olds are obese, followed by 20.6% of Hispanic children, 12.5% of white kids and 6.4% of Asian youth, the report says.

The overall prevalence of youth obesity is cause for concern, since excess weight is a risk factor for chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. Having obesity as a child may also push kids toward early puberty. And research shows that childhood obesity is a risk factor for obesity later in life, heightening the chances of developing health problems over time.

While efforts to curtail childhood obesity — including implementing healthy school lunch programs and adding more physical activity to school days — have been rolled out nationally, rates among children ages 2 to 19 have only continued to rise in recent years. If recent trends continue, scientists estimate that more than half of children currently ages 2 to 19 will be obese by the time they turn 35.

By current estimates, nearly 40% of U.S. adults are considered obese.

Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.

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