As we're sure you've heard, childhood obesity levels are not doing so good in America. Though they've leveled off overall, our lowest-income cities are still stuffing over 50 percent of their young with enough French fries to earn them “obese” Post-Its on their foreheads.
Fattest city in California? That dishonor goes to Huntington Park, says the California Center for Public Health Advocacy in a new report. Fifty-three percent of kids in the southeast L.A. County town are overweight.
And the skinniest?
Manhattan Beach — arguably the most good-looking, walkable, idyllic rich-person village in all of L.A. County, like Beverly Hills with a coastline and a human touch — only has an 11.3 percent rate of childhood obesity. (Which almost seems unhealthy in itself. Enough with the Kale 4 Kidz diet, trophy moms!)
This gross juxtaposition of fat to thin, poor to rich, is classic Los Angeles. Only place in the country where you can drive from your trillion-dollar beach house to ghetto gangland in 20 minutes flat (without, um, traffic):
We're not here to make fun of the fat kids. (See Lindy West's excellent “Being Mean to Fat People Is Pointless: A Good Old-Fashioned Plea for Civility.”) We just want to know how things got so out of control on the too-fat front.
In a Los Angeles Times article from December 2011, Bell Gardens was listed as the California's fattest city. It's located right next to Huntington Park and Bell, and the three form sort of a neglected urban trifecta — almost entirely Latino — where government corruption runs wild. City leaders have always been far more concerned with padding their own paychecks than providing their constituents with healthy food options.
And according to the Times, local parents don't always see the extra weight on their little gorditos as a bad thing.
Many Latino parents, [said Bell Gardens Community Health Clinic physician Jacqueline Lopez], simply don't recognize the risks of their children being overweight.
“There is a misperception that bigger children are healthier children,” she said. “I am trying to be sensitive, but really what we are talking about is these children are at risk of having a shortened life span.”
Then there's the recent Seattle Children's Hospital study on neighborhood walkability, showing that childhood-obesity rates plunged in towns “where physical activity and nutrition environments were positive”:
Researchers used GIS to assess Seattle and San Diego area neighborhoods' nutrition and physical activity environments. Nutrition environments were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants. Physical activity environments were defined based on environmental factors related to neighborhood walkability and at least one park with more or better amenities for children. Kids that lived in neighborhoods that were poorer in physical activity and nutrition environment had the highest rates of obesity–almost 16 percent–in the study. This figure is similar to the national average. On the flip side, only eight percent of children were obese in neighborhoods where physical activity and nutrition environments were positive.
What do you say, Huntington Park? What's going on with the kids down there? And as for you, Manhattan Beach — cool it with the personal trainers for your 6-year-olds.