For the second year in a row, Kentucky has the highest rate of childhood obesity among kids ages 10-to-17 at 23.8%. 

That’s according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released this week. Senior Program Officer Jamie Bussel said rates are too high across the country.

“They’ve been exacerbated by COVID, and we’re finding that in a number of different data that’s coming in,” Bustle said. “Kids of color and kids that live furthest from economic opportunities continue to be at greatest risk.”

In West Virginia, the childhood obesity rate is 21.9%. Both Kentucky and West Virginia’s rates are much higher compared to the national rate of 16.2%. Ohio’s childhood obesity rate is slightly above the national average at 17.2%.

Bussel also said that the pandemic has worsened issues that contribute to obesity rates. 

“Millions of families [are] struggling with things like food insecurity, our nation’s safety net is fragile and outdated, safe affordable housing is scarce,” she said. “It’s been scarce pre-COVID, it’s scarce during COVID and that forces families to make some incredibly hard choices.”

The report suggests a number of policy changes to lower obesity rates. Bussel says making universal school lunches permanent and extending the Women Infants and Children program to children until age 6 would help fill in some coverage gaps.

Bussel says things like Medicaid expansion have helped, but making emergency COVID measures permanent, like the expansion of the child tax credit, would decrease food insecurity. 

Corinne Boyer covers health issues for the ReSource from partner station WEKU in Richmond, KY.