Indiana has one of the nation’s highest rates of adult obesity, ranking 40th. And the state's rate of overweight and obese children is higher than that of all of our neighbors.

According to the latest research, 1 in 3 of our state’s children ages 10 to 17 is overweight, with kids of color and those living in low-income households at the greatest risk.

Today’s childhood obesity rate is nearly triple that of 40 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many overweight children are developing chronic health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis and sleep apnea, as well as low self-esteem, and depression. These physical and mental health problems can increase absenteeism and reduce educational attainment.

Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics also found a sharp increase in obesity rates in children ages 2 to 5.

The data tells us we must renew our efforts to increase physical activity opportunities and improve access to healthy foods, especially for our most at-risk children. 

There is a correlation between food insecurity — limited or uncertain access to adequate food — and childhood obesity, putting low-income children at the highest risk of being overweight or obese.

In Lake County, 19.9 percent of children are food insecure. Schools are a crucial link to ensuring that vulnerable children have access to healthy food.

Physical activity is another key to reducing childhood obesity. Your local United Way 211 line has information on camps, clubs and activities in your area.

Physical activity comes in many forms. One study found that increasing a child’s physical activity by even 30 minutes per week can improve overall health, though most experts recommend 60 minutes of activity a day. Families can help model good habits by taking walks, riding bikes or playing a rousing game of hide and seek.

Children develop habits around food and physical activity as young as age 5, making early childhood an essential time to teach and model healthy habits. The American Heart Association’s website, heart.org, contains practical advice on how to create healthy habits at home.

Indiana has several policies to prevent childhood obesity, including breastfeeding programs, healthy eating policies for early childhood education programs, and standards for school physical education. The Indiana Department of Education even posts a comprehensive listing of summer food sites at doe.in.gov/nutrition/summer-food-service-program to help at-risk kids maintain a consistent diet.

Yet more can and should be done at the state and community levels to ensure all Hoosier kids have access to healthy foods and environmental conditions — such as parks, playgrounds, community centers, bicycle paths and sidewalks — that can foster and support active lifestyles.

Tami Silverman is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She can be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI.