The percentage of children and adolescents who are not just overweight but obese has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2018, nearly one in five children between the age of 2 and 19 were obese.

Childhood obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and sex.

Of the 42 states for which there is data on adolescent obesity, Iowa is the state with the 10th largest share of high school students who are obese at 17.0%. In comparison, about one in seven, or 15.5%, of high schoolers nationwide are considered obese.

Additionally, 15.9% of students in ninth to 12th grade are overweight, the 20th highest share in the country and compared to 16.1% across the U.S.

Poverty is a potential factor contributing to a higher obesity rate among younger people. Healthier foods that tend to be lower in calories and more nutritious are relatively more expensive and may be less affordable to low-income households. About 13.0% of children under 18 in Iowa live in poverty, the 15th lowest share in the country. The U.S. child poverty is 16.8%.

Iowa has the second highest rate of residents with limited access to healthy foods at 5.6% compared to 5.9% of people across the country as a whole.

Health experts have pointed to several lifestyle factors that are likely contributing to the excess weight problem among Americans, among them a sedentary lifestyle. About 77.8% of communities in Iowa are built in a way that promotes physical activity -- which means having plenty of sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, and walking paths. This is the 20th highest share in the country. Across the U.S., 74.9% of communities are built in such a way.

About 77.1% of children between 2 and 19 years old in the state have easy access to parks and playgrounds, the 23rd highest in the U.S. and compared to 76.5% of 2- to 19-year-olds in the country as a whole.

Of the 37 states for which data on physical activity among children is available, Iowa has the 10th highest share of children who exercise five or more days a week at 49.2%. Nationwide, 46.5% are physically active that often.

To determine the states where children in high school -- ninth to 12th graders -- are struggling with obesity, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2019 data from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. We ranked the states based on the reported youth obesity rate as of 2019, the latest year for which data is available. These are the states with the highest rates of obesity among high schoolers.

 

StateHigh schoolers who are obeseHigh schoolers who are overwightFamilies with limited access to healthy foodsChildren with easy access to park/playgroundPoverty rate (under 18)
Mississippi23.4%18.0%10.7%46.4%28.1%
West Virginia22.9%16.5%6.6%56.7%20.1%
Arkansas22.1%19.8%8.7%55.1%22.1%
Tennessee20.9%18.3%8.5%58.1%19.7%
Missouri18.4%16.1%6.8%71.2%17.1%
Kentucky18.4%17.8%5.6%58.8%21.7%
Georgia18.3%18.1%9.0%68.0%18.7%
Oklahoma17.6%18.1%8.6%64.4%19.9%
Alabama17.2%20.1%7.9%53.1%21.4%
Iowa17.0%15.9%5.6%77.1%13.0%
Texas16.9%17.8%8.7%74.2%19.2%
South Carolina16.6%16.3%9.1%56.3%19.7%
Louisiana16.5%17.8%9.5%59.0%27.0%
Hawaii16.4%14.4%6.9%87.2%12.4%
California15.9%15.2%3.3%87.5%15.6%
North Carolina15.4%16.0%6.7%56.7%19.5%
Pennsylvania15.4%14.5%4.6%81.8%16.9%
Michigan15.3%16.1%6.3%76.6%17.6%
New Mexico15.2%15.8%14.0%70.9%24.9%
Illinois15.2%15.5%4.5%89.2%15.7%
Kansas15.1%15.7%8.3%77.3%14.7%
Maine14.9%14.8%3.8%70.2%13.8%
Virginia14.8%15.8%4.3%69.8%13.4%
Alaska14.8%15.0%9.2%73.0%13.0%
Wisconsin14.5%14.6%4.8%78.9%13.5%
Connecticut14.4%14.9%4.3%76.2%14.1%
Rhode Island14.3%14.6%4.7%83.9%14.0%
South Dakota14.1%15.6%10.5%79.8%15.0%
North Dakota14.0%16.5%7.0%81.8%10.2%
Florida14.0%16.1%7.2%73.4%17.7%
New York13.4%16.3%2.3%88.6%18.1%
Arizona13.3%17.4%7.5%81.9%19.1%
Nebraska13.3%12.8%5.6%84.5%11.0%
Vermont13.1%13.7%3.3%73.0%10.2%
Maryland12.8%15.7%3.4%82.7%12.0%
New Hampshire12.7%14.0%5.0%69.2%7.1%
Nevada12.3%16.7%5.4%80.1%16.9%
Idaho12.1%12.4%7.1%72.8%13.2%
New Jersey11.9%14.7%3.6%88.9%12.3%
Montana11.5%13.0%8.3%73.3%14.9%
Colorado10.3%11.7%5.5%87.9%10.9%
Utah9.8%12.3%5.8%89.7%9.9%