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There’s a good reason why research receives so much emphasis in the healthcare field. Whether you’re immersed in clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine or investigating your own personal genetic history, it’s important to keep the processes involved in mind. Gathering data and using it to inform and facilitate action is critical.

Healthcare workers routinely use the data they collect to guide their assessments. But in many cases, those data points aren’t enough on their own.

For example, the obesity epidemic — which shows no signs of slowing in the United States — requires a more in-depth look into societal and community-level factors.

Obesity Facts and Figures

A deep dive into the data over the past couple of decades reveals statistics that are quite alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4% in the time span of 1999-2000 to 2017-2018. The rates of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2% in that same time period.

In children and adolescents, the latest data available indicates that:

  • Obesity impacts 18.5% of the U.S. population — about 13.7 million children and adolescents.
  • Obesity prevalence was 13.9% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 18.4% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 20.6% among 12- to 19-year-olds

From a socioeconomic perspective, there’s a common thread among children, adolescents and adults in that some populations are suffering at greater rates than others. Again, from the CDC:

Adults: Non-Hispanic Black adults (49.6%) had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of obesity, followed by Hispanic adults (44.8%), non-Hispanic white adults (42.2%) and non-Hispanic Asian adults (17.4%).

Children/Adolescents: Hispanic (25.8%) and non-Hispanic Black children (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic white children (14.1%). Non-Hispanic Asian children (11.0%) had lower obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children.

Income and education also factor in, with those in lower income brackets and with less education constituting a higher-risk population.

It’s imperative to note that overweight or obese populations are more at risk for developing life-threatening, yet preventable conditions like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer.

Why Is All This Relevant in Nursing?

Nurses are often the first line of care for individuals of all ages in settings ranging from schools and community-run healthcare facilities to pediatricians’ offices and emergency rooms. They are a fundamental contributor to a community’s overall health. Those who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, in particular, have gained preparation and knowledge in evidence-based practice. BSN-prepared nurses are required to complete coursework focusing on theories and concepts related to contemporary nursing practice in community health.

The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) created a position statement outlining multiple ways in which school nurses can “identify, assess, refer, and follow-up with children and adolescents who are at risk for health problems associated with overweight or obesity.” School nurses are often in communication with students’ parents or caregivers, which presents an additional opportunity for change.

Another area nurses can make a difference is in whole-community education. This approach recently came to the forefront with the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to provide education about the virus to high-risk populations in the agricultural communities of central and northern California were implemented, and many proved effective.

Nurses can have a significant impact on a community as role models, sharing knowledge surrounding evidence-based practice with their healthcare teams. Nurses aren’t just advocates in this regard — they are truly agents of change.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online RN to BSN program.


CDC: Adult Obesity Facts

Centers for Disease Control: Childhood Obesity Facts

National Association of School Nurses: Overweight and Obesity in Children and Adolescents in Schools – The Role of the School Nurse Obesity in America Update on the Latest COVID-19 Response at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital

World Health Organization: Obesity and Overweight

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