Childhood obesity rates are rising in states across the country, according to a new study, and Pennsylvania is now in the top ten.

The recent study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighted an increase in obesity rates from the year before in Pennsylvania. According to the study, the 2017-2018 obesity rate for Pennsylvania children between ages 10-17 was at 17.4 percent. The number is above the national average of 15.3 percent.

In Erie County the most recent available data showed obesity rates for K-6 grade students staying at 17.3 percent in both 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. In grades 7-12 the obesity rates increased slightly during those same years, from 18.7 percent to 19.1 percent. Poor diets, a lack of places to be physically active, and more sedentary lifestyles are some of the factors in play, but there are also bigger ones as well.

"The biggest thing that I’m seeing in our area that's an issue is low access to healthy foods and a lack of knowledge on how to eat healthy,” Alex Whipple, a Public Health Educator with the Erie County Department of Health, said. “So we have these communities in Erie that are food deserts, we have 10 in the city and two out in the county. So that means there's low access to grocery stores, but there’s low access to everything so it's really an equity issue."

These food deserts can disproportionately effects people of color and those living in poverty. Whipple also mentioned that schools in Erie County are doing a good job of educating children on the importance of eating healthy, as each school has a community garden. Passing the knowledge to the parents who purchase food for children at home can be a challenge, but it's one the county is working to address.  

“We have a ton of organizations here in the community working on increasing food access. So taking advantage of those, and exploring what's available in your area, that's huge," Whipple said.

Some of the programs, like healthy cooking education classes and eating healthy on a budget classes, are offered locally at places like the Penn State Extension Office, Oasis Market, and Edinboro Market.

Another point Whipple mentioned, especially as we come closer to the holidays, is when people are donating food to pantries for families in need, try to think about the types of nutritious food you'd feed your family, include some healthy options in what you donate.