As in many communities throughout the United States, Harris County is concerned about the health of its children. It is estimated that 34% of Houston area children (aged 12 and over) are overweight/obese. While the main cause of childhood obesity is an imbalance of the number of calories consumed and the amount of physical activity, there are many environmental factors that influence a child’s opportunities to maintain a healthy weight.
Access to healthy food is of concern in Harris County as 16% of people do not have a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables available in their neighborhood. Moreover, 77% of children (ages 6-17) in Harris County are not getting the recommended physical activity to maintain a healthy weight. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because it can lead to health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and can also lead to emotional issues, such as poor self-esteem and depression. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop health problems at a younger age. Becoming obese can have negative effects on children’s physical and emotional health. Overweight and obese children and teens are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint problems, asthma, and sleep-disordered breathing, among other conditions. Being obese or overweight also can have a major social and emotional impact on children and youth, as they face a higher risk for more severe and frequent bullying, rejection by their peers, low self-esteem, and increased susceptibility to depression.
There are many challenges for individuals and society created by high childhood and adult obesity levels. In addition to the personal health and social effects of obesity, there are economic consequences to be considered, such as healthcare costs and costs to society. The table below describes many of the challenges and consequences associated with obesity.
Childhood overweight/obesity rates in Harris County are higher in communities with higher rates of minorities and people living in poverty. Often, these communities have less access to healthy food and fewer opportunities to engage in physical activity outdoors which contributes to poorer health outcomes. The map below illustrates the areas in Harris County with the highest percentage of children ages 5-17 who are overweight or obese. Community areas shaded in red have higher rates of childhood overweight/obesity than community areas shaded in blue.
Using several sources of data and facilitating several rounds of discussion, two community areas were prioritized to better understand the challenges to active living and healthy eating among residents. The communities selected were Fifth Ward- Near Northside and Pasadena-South Houston.