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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Public Health Data Watch: Youth Obesity in King County

Volume 11, Issue 1 / March 2012 (revised 12/20/12) / PDF version

One in five youth in King County is overweight or obese
Although steady since 2004, youth obesity rates remain unacceptably high
Rates are highest among males, youth of color and those in south King County
Obesity in childhood is likely to continue into adulthood, and increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease

Serious lifelong consequences

Youth obesity has many serious consequences – during youth and throughout life. Youth obesity can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and breathing1-3 and joint4-5 problems. Obesity in childhood is likely to continue into adulthood, and increases the risk for serious health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition, overweight children are more likely to be severely obese as adults.6

Obesity is a national problem that has significant costs to the health care system and society as a whole.7 The direct medical cost of obesity in adults is estimated at about $500 million in King County each year,8 not including lost work days and lost productivity. In King County, whether our children are likely to be overweight or obese differs by gender, race/ethnicity, and where children live.

Too many youth have unhealthy weight, boys more than girls

Twenty-one percent of King County youth have unhealthy weight, meaning they are either obese or overweight. In King County, 9% of middle and high school youth (grades 8, 10, and 12) are obese and 12% are overweight. Boys are nearly twice as likely to be obese and 1.3 times more likely to be overweight than girls. Statewide, 11% of students in these grades are obese, and boys are also more likely to be obese than girls.9 Although steady since 2004, youth obesity remains unacceptably high.

Figure 2. Teen Overweight and Obesity Combined Prevalence by Region, King County, WA — 2010
Figure 2. Teen Overweight and Obesity Combined Prevalence by Region, King County, WA — 2010
The percentage of youth with unhealthy weight differs among our communities

King County youth of color have higher rates of obesity and overweight relative to white youth, similar to the pattern seen nationally. Middle and high school students who are African American, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indian/Alaskan Native are about two times more likely than white, non-Hispanic students to be overweight or obese. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students are also about two times as likely as white, non-Hispanic students to be overweight and three times as likely to be obese.

Unhealthy weight among youth is higher in south King County and Seattle

Compared to students in the east region of the county, rates of unhealthy weight among middle and high school students are 1.6 times higher in south region and 1.3 times higher in Seattle. Twenty-five percent of south region students and 21% of Seattle students are overweight or obese, while 16% of east students and 19% of north students are overweight or obese.

Promoting healthy eating and physical activity through strong policies can support youth

Although there is no one simple solution to reverse youth obesity, communities in King County can increase focus on obesity through policies that promote access to healthy foods, decrease access to unhealthy foods like sugary drinks, and support opportunities for physical activity such as safe routes to school. Working together, we can overcome our youth obesity crisis so that our kids can live healthier.

Data sources and definitions:

Local and state youth obesity data are from the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, a school-based survey conducted every two years in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 to measure adolescent health risk behaviors. Local data is available since 2004. Measures of youth overweight and obesity are based on body mass index (BMI), calculated as self-reported weight divided by height squared, from students in grades 8, 10 and 12. Among children, obesity10 is defined as BMI in the top 5% of BMI distribution for children of the same age and gender based on growth charts11 developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; overweight10 is rated as BMI between the top 5% and 15%.12 This is a change from 2006 and earlier years, when these categories were called overweight and at risk for overweight, respectively.

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1 Daniels SR, Arnett DK, Eckel RH, et al. Overweight in children and adolescents: pathophysiology, consequences, prevention, and treatment. Circulation 2005;111;1999–2002.

2 Office of the Surgeon General. The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. Rockville, MD, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.

3 Dietz WH. Overweight in childhood and adolescence. New England Journal of Medicine 2004;350:855-857.

4 Han JC, Lawlor DA, Kimm SY. Childhood obesity. Lancet. May 15 2010;375(9727):1737—1748.

5 Taylor ED, Theim KR, Mirch MC, et al. Orthopedic complications of overweight in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. Jun 2006;117(6):2167—2174.

6 Freedman DS, Khan LK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. Relationship of childhood overweight to coronary heart disease risk factors in adulthood: The Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 2001;108:712—718.

7Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Overweight and Obesity: Data and Statistics. Last updated April 21, 2001.

8 Computed using economic cost of obesity data from 2008 Washington state per capita cost for adults reported by America's Health Rankings (American Public Health Association, Partnership for Prevention and the United Health Foundation), data at Accessed 3/17/2010.

9 Healthy Youth Survey 2010 Analytic Report. Washington State Department of Health, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Department of Social and Health Services, Department of Commerce, Family Policy Council and Liquor Control Board, June 2011. Available online.

10 Barlow SE and the Expert Committee. Expert committee recommendations regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of child and adolescent overweight and obesity: summary report. Pediatrics 2007;120 Supplement December 2007:S164—S192.

11 Kuczmarski RJ, Ogden CL, Guo SS, et al. 2000 CDC growth charts for the United States: Methods and development. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 11(246). 2002. Available at:

12 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overweight and Obesity: Basics about Childhood Obesity. Last updated April 26, 2011. Available at: Accessed 12/05/2011.

Public Health Data Watch is produced by the Assessment, Policy Development & Evaluation Unit of Public Health — Seattle & King County and summarizes trends in key health indicators for King County. Myduc Ta, PhD, was the author of this Data Watch. For more information, contact and visit