Missouri did well in the latest rankings of childhood obesity, better than more than two-thirds of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, reported this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report says 73,800 children ages 10 to 17 in Missouri are obese, or 12.5 percent of that population. That is 15th lowest, with Utah ranking the best at 8.7 percent and Mississippi at the bottom with a 25.4 percent obesity rate.

Missouri’s rate doesn’t change much from year to year, according to the report.

The information is in “The State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy.” The data was compiled from the National Survey of Children’s Health by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration.

“Preventing obesity is going to require multiple levels of government,” said Jamie Bussel, senior program officer for the foundation, in a conference call with reporters.

“We still continue to see deep and persistent disparities” aligned with race and poverty, she said.

Though some say obesity is a matter of choice, Bussel said that’s not a complete story.

“The choices people make depends on the choices they have,” Bussel said.

The national childhood obesity rate is 15.3 percent.

Childhood obesity places young people at greater risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health problems when they become adults, Bussel said.

“It’s much more cost-effective to address obesity in the early years,” she said.

Cities that encourage walking and bike riding with trails and schools that offer healthy meals and lots of activities encourage healthy lifestyles, Bussel said.

Laina Fullum, nutrition services director for Columbia Public Schools, said the school district does its part in reducing childhood obesity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture strictly regulates the food it serves. All breads and pastas are whole grain. Saturated fat and trans fat are restricted. Colorful vegetables and fruits are included in school meals.

“We have garden bars at every single one of our schools,” Fullum said.

Two nutrition coordinators make frequent visits to classrooms, she said.

Many schools have gardens. A district farm-to-school coordinator works directly with students in nine schools.

The nutrition regulations for school meals adopted during the Obama administration haven’t eased much, but Fullum said it wouldn’t matter if they had.

“There’s not any reason for us to go backwards,” Fullum said.

Bussel said she’s hopeful childhood obesity can be reversed.

“We know it’s not going to be easy,” she said. “There is no single, silver bullet.”

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com