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Home News Decline in Childhood Obesity Rates in 3rd Graders
Kenny Vigil
505-841-5871 Office
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Decline in Childhood Obesity Rates in 3rd Graders

The New Mexico Department of Health announced childhood obesity rates among New Mexico 3rd graders declined measurably from 2010 through 2013. The Department found a 12 percent decrease during that time, going from 22.6% of obese 3rd graders in 2010 to 19.9% in 2013. Obesity rates among Native American 3rd graders, the group with the highest prevalence, also declined going from 36.6 percent in 2010 to 29.5 percent in 2013, a 20 percent decline.

While the numbers are encouraging, the Department remains concerned about the significant increase in childhood obesity between kindergarten and third grade. 19.9% of New Mexico’s 3rd graders were obese in 2013, compared to 13.2% when the same age group was in kindergarten in 2010.

Figure 1

“We must continue working to reduce and prevent childhood obesity. We can’t stop now. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults and suffer from chronic diseases,” said Secretary of Health Retta Ward, MPH.

The Department of Health believes that one of the contributing causes for why New Mexico is seeing a decrease in obesity is an innovative program called Healthy Kids Healthy Communities New Mexico (HKNM). The program creates healthy environments and programs to give kids what they need to play well, eat well, learn well, and live healthy and full lives.

Since 2011, HKNM has been implementing proven strategies in nine counties and four tribal communities through a federally funded community transformation grant reaching approximately 43,000 K-5th grade students, or 27% of the state’s elementary age students.

The communities were selected based on a number of factors including population, health status, poverty status, racial and ethnic diversity and readiness to implement prevention programs. The counties include: Chaves, Cibola, Curry, Dona Ana, Guadalupe, Luna, McKinley, Rio Arriba, and Socorro. The tribal communities include: Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Mescalero and Zuni.

Specifically, HKNM and its partners have focused on infrastructure and systems changes to increase physical activity and healthy eating in schools and the greater community. Among the early accomplishments are:

  • Creating new walking and bicycling trails in HKNM communities, including nearly 50 miles of new trails in the four HKNM tribal communities;
  • Establishing Safe Routes to School (SFTS) programs in nearly two dozen school districts using $6.4 million provided by the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT);
  • Opening schoolyards for neighborhood use outside of school hours in nearly half of the HKNM elementary schools;
  • Improving the nutritional content of school meals through the efforts of the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) and school districts;
  • Doubling the number of healthy United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) commodity food options that school districts can select from as part of their federal commodity school meals allotment working with the New Mexico New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD);
  • Tripling the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables purchased with federal funds for school healthy snack programs; and,
  • Bringing salad bars, like those that have existed in middle and high schools, to elementary schools. Today at least 30% of HKNM schools are now offering salad bars or pre-made salads, such as a chef salad, for elementary students to select as part of their school lunch.

HKNM has also been working with the Children, Youth and Families (CYFD) to offer trainings to licensed and registered child care providers so their facilities can offer healthier meals and snacks and more opportunities for physical activity. Since 2012, HKNM has reached 237 licensed childcare centers, with a potential reach of more than 14,000 preschool children.

“Reaching children in this age group is important because it can help shape their eating and physical activity behaviors for the rest of their lives,” said Ward.

Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Childhood obesity increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure and other precursors to heart disease. Children who adopt healthy habits early may reduce their likelihood of developing Chronic Disease as adults.

“Genuine solutions to address the challenging and complex problems of childhood obesity require the concerted efforts of community and state partners. That is why HKNM is successful. It draws in more than 400 partners from the state level to school districts and municipalities to help make the healthier choice, the easier choice,” said Ward.

The Department recommends the following tips to encourage healthy lifestyles:

  • Prepare more meals as a family. Eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day and drink plenty of water to quench thirst.
  • Downsize portions.
  • Get at least one hour of physical activity a day.
  • Limit screen time and encourage alternate forms of entertainment.
  • Ask your doctor or school nurse if your child is overweight or obese.

For healthy eating tips and to see a full breakdown of childhood obesity numbers visit the Healthy Kids Healthy Communities section of our website.

Media Contact

We would be happy to provide additional information about this press release. Simply contact Kenny Vigil at 505-841-5871 (Office) or 505-470-2290 (Mobile) with your questions.