WASHINGTON, D.C. – After decades of sharp increases, the rise in obesity rates among both children and adults has slowed in recent years, according to a “State of Obesity” report discussed during a Congressional briefing Wednesday.

Despite these promising statistics, the report, released last August by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that obesity remains a top-of-mind concern in communities across the country. Nationally, the obesity rate among children ages 2-19 has remained stable in recent years, at about 17 percent.

“What we see in these numbers is some hope, but a lot of startling data,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said at the briefing.

Factors related to racial and socioeconomic inequities in obesity rates are still an issue. Rates are higher among Latino (21.9 percent) and African-American (19.5 percent) children than among white (14.7 percent) and Asian (8.6 percent) children, the report said.

Melanie Bridgeforth, executive director of VOICES for Alabama’s Children, said during the briefing that initiatives like healthy food financing has helped to alleviate “food deserts” and provide greater access to healthy food options for Alabamians.

“We know that obesity is more than calories in and calories out,” said Bridgeforth.

“It is about addressing the systematic and structural barriers, and if you don’t have fresh food in your community, proximity matters,” she said.

The association and Voices for Healthy Kids work with community leaders in every state to advocate for health and wellness policies that create greater access to healthy foods and places to be active.

Across the country, states are increasingly implementing or evaluating the impact of nutrition and physical activity policies to provide greater accessibility for underserved communities.

“We are committed to improving heart and brain health for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, income or ZIP code,” said Brown.

She described how efforts in several states have helped to create healthier communities.

For example, just two months ago, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to incentivize grocery stores to expand in underserved areas.

The Michigan Strategic Fund Act, more commonly referred to as the Grocery Store Bill, commits $12 million to $15 million over the next five years to support programs aimed at increasing access to healthy food.

The 2017 report found that long-term investments and policy changes have led to progress in preventing obesity and stabilizing obesity rates, especially among children.

However, the weakening school nutrition standards and funding cuts to obesity prevention programs could stall this progress, health advocates told lawmakers.

“On this wonderful date of love, Valentine’s Day, we at the association hope people can understand the root causes of obesity,” said Brown. “It is our belief through data and on-the-ground work in communities that we can make the country a healthier place for all citizens.”

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