The Health and Well-Being of Children in Rural Areas: A Portrait of the Nation 2005
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Healthy body weight is critically important to overall health and wellbeing both during childhood and later in life. Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur more frequently among overweight children than those with a healthier weight. Overweight is also closely linked to type-2 diabetes and can have emotional effects such as poor selfesteem and depression. Furthermore, it is estimated that overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of going on to become overweight or obese adults; this rate is even higher among children with overweight or obese parents.1 Overweight and obesity and their associated health problems create direct and indirect costs that have significant economic impact on U.S. health care expenditures. The NSCH measures overweight in children through parent-reported height and weight measures. “Overweight” means that the child’s Body Mass Index (BMI), calculated from the parent-reported height and weight, is at or above the 95th percentile for sex and age.2 When a child is considered to be overweight, this means that at least 95 percent of children of the same sex and age have lower BMIs, according to nationally representative data on height and weight that were measured by health professionals in other research studies.

Overall, based on parent-reported height and weight, almost 15 percent of children aged 10-17 in the United States are considered overweight. Children in urban areas are somewhat less likely than children living in rural areas to be overweight. Of children living in urban areas, 14.2 percent are overweight; these figures are 17.1 and 17.4 percent, respectively, for children in large rural and small rural areas.

In general, boys, younger children, and children with lower family incomes are more likely to be overweight than their counterparts. Within each of these demographic groups, children living in rural settings are more likely to be overweight than their urban counterparts. For instance, 17.2 percent of boys living in an urban area are overweight, compared to 21.1 percent living in large rural and 21.7 percent living in small rural areas.

One of the most noticeable differences by location occurs among children ages 12-14: 13.3 percent of children in this age group who live in an urban area are overweight, while the same is true of 18.7 percent of children living in large and small rural areas. In most income categories, children in urban areas are least likely to be overweight. For example, 21.8 percent of children living in urban areas are considered overweight, compared to 26.3 percent in large rural areas. The only exception is among children with family incomes of 100-199 percent of Federal poverty level who, although the difference is very slight, are most likely to be overweight in small rural areas but least likely to be overweight in large rural areas (20.3 and 18.1 percent, respectively).

1 Office of the Surgeon General. The Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2001.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. BMI for children and teens. Available from: bmi/bmi-for-age.htm. Updated 8 June, 2005.

Graph: Percent of children aged 10-17 years who are overewight, by location





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This chartbook is based on data from the National Survey of Children's Health. Suggested citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The National Survey of Children's Health 2003. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005.