Obesity rate remains high for California’s fifth-graders, racial disparities prominent

Showing only marginal improvement from years prior, 40.5 percent of California fifth-graders were overweight or obese in 2018, according to new data from the Kidsdata program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. Research has long shown that the physical health of students significantly impacts their ability to attend school and achieve academic success.

Studies also clearly show that a disproportionate number of low-income students and students of color live without basic health supports and education, borne out in the latest fifth-grade weight data. In 2018, 54 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 49 percent of Hispanic/Latino fifth-graders were overweight or obese, compared to fewer than 30 percent of their Asian American and white peers.

Weight data is also available for seventh- and ninth-graders through the Kidsdata portal.

More than one-third of U.S. children ages 2-19 are overweight or obese, according to a 2015–16 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While both the national and state rates have more than tripled over the past four decades, they have leveled off in recent years, data show.

In California, the Lucile Packard Foundation finds that “reducing childhood obesity rates requires more than personal effort. Public policies are necessary to ensure equitable access to opportunities for physical activity in and out of school, and affordable healthful foods, among other factors.”

To help districts and boards engage in such discussions, CSBA offers a resource page on the conditions of children. Topics in the student physical health and wellness section include physical activity/education, nutrition, school-based health services and student wellness policy.

The latest data also displays the diversity of communities, their populations and their issues across the state of California — emphasizing the need for local conversations and policies. The percentage of fifth-graders who were overweight or obese ranged from 19 percent to 52 percent among counties with data in 2018, and from 0 percent to 70 percent across school districts.

The Kidsdata analysis also found racial and ethnic disparities in the percentage of children who met the California Department of Education fitness standards. Fewer than 20 percent of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latino fifth-graders met all fitness standards, compared with 35 percent of Asian American and white students.

Note: (A Body Mass Index at or above the 95th percentile on CDC growth charts is considered obese; overweight refers to BMI between the 85th and 95th percentiles.)

Further resources: