Obesity by the ZIP Code
According to a study released last week by the city’s departments of Education and Health, 40 percent of schoolchildren from kindergarten to the eighth grade are overweight, higher even than national rates of childhood obesity. Even more sobering, though unsurprising, is the fact that overweight children are concentrated in certain pockets of New York. In 2008-2009, Corona, Queens had the dubious honor of having the highest rate of obesity, with 51 percent of children classified as overweight. Similarly, other low-income neighborhoods showed obesity rates of close to half of their population. Meanwhile, more affluent areas had drastically fewer obese kids. On the Upper West Side, for example, only 10 percent of children were deemed overweight.
In response to the new data, the Department of Health has responded that it has numerous initiatives aimed at combating obesity—that it has replaced whole milk with 1% milk, that a program is being launched to introduce exercise into the classroom, that bake sales can now only be held once a month. And to be sure, these are all important efforts in making the school system a healthier place.
The factors at work in obesity, however, stretch far beyond the school walls. That the most obese children are concentrated in low-income areas is no revelation. These communities may not be plagued by hunger, strictly speaking, but they lack the resources easily available to their counterparts in middle and upper class neighborhoods. Not only do individual residents have less disposable income, but they are often constrained in their choices, and may not have access to healthy, affordable foods. These are problems that cannot simply be done away with through limitations on the sale of baked goods. These are issues of economic development, urban disinvestment and the industrial food system in the United States, and the statistics published last week should be evidence enough that what we’ve got is not working.