Turning the Curve on Obesity Prevalence Among Fifth Graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District, 2001–2013
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Turning the Curve on Obesity Prevalence Among Fifth Graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District, 2001–2013

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    After multiple decades of increasing childhood obesity prevalence in the United States, findings from recent studies suggest that prevalence has leveled or is decreasing in some populations. However, demographic and socioeconomic disparities in prevalence remain and may be increasing.


    To assess recent trends and disparities in childhood obesity prevalence in Los Angeles County, we analyzed data from 2001 through 2013 in fifth graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Obesity was defined as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex as compared with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts, on the basis of measured height and weight. Trends were examined by sex, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES). SES was determined by using school-level data on the percentage of students participating in a free and reduced-price meal program.


    Obesity prevalence increased from 27.5% in 2001 to 31.6% in 2005, was stable from 2005 through 2010, and decreased from 31.6% in 2010 to 28.5% in 2013. Similar trajectories in prevalence were observed for all demographic and SES subgroups, although the decline in prevalence began earlier among whites and students attending schools in the highest SES group. Disparities in prevalence by race/ethnicity and SES were observed during the entire study period but narrowed slightly from 2010 through 2013.


    Although obesity prevalence among fifth graders in LAUSD declined from 2010 through 2013, prevalence remains higher than in 2001, and demographic and socioeconomic disparities in prevalence persist. Future interventions in the county should prioritize Latinos and students attending low SES schools.

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