WASHINGTON DC (CDC) — States can do more to improve food access, regulations and policies to promote healthy eating and fight childhood obesity, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2011 Children's Food Environment State Indicator Report also notes that the communities, child care facilities and schools all have roles to play.
"Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "This report underscores the need to make healthier choices easier for kids and more accessible and affordable for parents."
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia scored at or below the national average for the Modified Retail Food Environment Index (mRFEI), a measure of the proportion of food retailers that typically sell healthy foods within a state. Scores can range from 0 (no food retailers that typically sell healthy food) to 100 (only food retailers that typically sell healthy food). States with lower mRFEI scores have more food retailers, such as fast food restaurants and convenience stores, that are less likely to sell less healthy foods and fewer food retailers, such as supermarkets, that tend to sell healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Nationally, the average mRFEI score was 10. State-by-state scores ranged from highs of 16 in Montana and 15 in Maine to lows of 5 in Rhode Island and 4 in the District of Columbia.
The report shows that as of December 2008, only one state—Georgia—had enacted all of the following state licensure regulations for child care facilities: to restrict sugar drinks, to require access to drinking water throughout the day, and to limit TV and computer screen time. CDC and other experts see the childcare setting as an important opportunity to address nutrition and physical activity issues.
Twenty-nine states had enacted one of these regulations, while 13 states and the District of Columbia had enacted none.
Forty-nine percent of middle and high schools allowed less healthy foods like candy, soft drinks, and fast food restaurants to be advertised to students on school grounds. In Ohio nearly 70 percent of middle and high schools allowed such advertising, while in New York only 24 percent of schools allowed it.
"To feed their children healthy food at home, parents must have ready access to stores that sell affordable, healthy food," said William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. "Parents also want their children to continue eating well in school or child care facilities. This report highlights actions that states, communities, and individuals can take to improve children's food choices and influences."
CDC supports a number of programs that help states, tribes, and communities combat both childhood and adult obesity. The agency funds 25 state-based nutrition, physical activity, and obesity programs to develop and implement science-based interventions. The current focus is to create changes that support healthy eating and active living where Americans live, work, learn, and play.
Additionally, CDC funds 23 state and territorial education agencies and tribal governments to help school districts and schools implement coordinated school health programs. This approach can increase the effectiveness of policies and programs to promote physical activity, nutrition, and tobacco-use prevention among students.
CDC's Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative funds 47 communities, three tribes, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. territories to use tested strategies to creating healthier community environments.
The 2011 Children's Food Environment State Indicator Report compiles data from a variety of sources, including Preventing Obesity in the Child Care Setting: Evaluating State Regulations and CDC's School Health Profiles. The full report is available at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/ChildrensFoodEnvironment.pdf. State tables are at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/ChildrensFoodEnvironment.pdf#page=8. For information about childhood obesity visit http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood.