Newswise — According to new data released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's State of Obesity project, 31.2 percent of youth in the 10-17 age range are overweight or obese. 

Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates are in the South. 

Courtney Peterson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Department of Nutrition Sciences and scientist in UAB’s Nutrition Obesity Research Center (NORC), says that actions need to be taken on a public health level to address the growing epidemic of obesity and obesity-related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease.

Key arguments:

  • We need new initiatives at a variety of levels, ranging from food policies to insurance reimbursement policies for doctors to prescribe diet and exercise for their patients. 
  • More research is needed on what strategies are effective for curbing the obesity epidemic, so that we know what public health strategies are effective.
  • We still don’t know the answer to basic questions like which food groups promote weight loss and overall health. 
  • The NIH spends less than 5 percent of its annual budget on dietary research, despite the fact that poor diet is the leading cause of death worldwide.
  • We need more funding for research into how diet and exercise can prevent or reduce obesity, so that we can help more people improve their health.

Peterson has also researched new and more accurate ways for obesity to be calculated in adolescents. Her expertise has been featured on the Today Show OnlineRedbookCosmopolitan and CNN.