Best States for Raising Healthy Kids

Connecticut is America’s top state for raising healthy kids, while Alaska ranks lowest on a list compiled by Child Magazine.

Of course, it’s possible to raise a fit child anywhere. No state has a monopoly on health, but some may make it a bit easier to achieve, the survey shows.

Not that long ago, the list might have looked somewhat different. Connecticut rose to the top with school-based measures that took effect last July, says the magazine.

Still, food and fitness aren’t just important at school. What happens at home and in leisure time also help shape children’s health habits, for better or worse. The magazine took that into account, too.

Most states could stand to get better. “ Just one state requires P.E. for all students daily, only one in four specifies a reasonable physical education class size, and only two-thirds teach elementary school students about nutrition,” says the article.

Best, Worst States for Healthy Kids

The top five states were:

1. Connecticut

2. New York

3. Vermont

4. Massachusetts

5. Missouri

At the bottom of the list were:

46. Kansas

47. Mississippi

48. Nevada

49. Nebraska

50. Alaska

States were rated by a panel of health, fitness, and nutrition experts for the magazine. Judging was based on more than a dozen criteria, including school requirements and recommendations for physical education and nutrition classes, playground safety, youth sports participation, and the number of fast-food restaurants.

Why Connecticut Won

Connecticut impressed the judges with a new state law requiring students in kindergarten through fifth grade to get daily physical activity at school (physical education classes or recess). Connecticut encourages 60-90 minutes of physical education per week for kindergarten through third-graders, and 80-120 minutes per week for fourth through sixth graders, says the magazine.

Connecticut law now also requires schools to sell low-fat dairy products, water, and fruit whenever kids can purchase other foods, says the article. That gives kids more nutritious options to choose from.

Beyond that, five Connecticut schools have totally swapped junk food and soda in their cafeterias for healthier items such as yogurt and fruit. A dietitian working on the pilot project, which started last fall, told the magazine she hasn’t heard any gripes about it from students.

Why Other States Stumbled

States slipped further down the list if they didn’t require physical education or nutrition classes, or if their playgrounds were unsafe. Other shortfalls included low levels of youth sports.

In the lowest-ranked state -- Alaska -- only high school students are required to take physical education, and those classes usually aren’t taught by certified P.E. specialists, says the magazine. Alaska’s playgrounds in state parks also weren’t in good shape, according to the article.

Then there’s Mississippi (No. 47). That’s the state with the highest percentage of heavy high school students, says the magazine, citing a government study of 32 states. Around 15 percent of Mississippi students are too heavy and another 15 percent are on the verge of being overweight, says the magazine.

The Rest of the Rankings

Here’s how the other states rated:

6. Maine

7. West Virginia

8. Wisconsin

9. Arkansas

10. Illinois

11. Montana

12. Georgia

13. California

14. Rhode Island

15. Texas

16. New Jersey

17. Oregon

18. Minnesota

19. Colorado

20. Florida

21. Utah

22. Maryland

23. Indiana

24. Washington

25. Michigan

26. Hawaii

27. South Carolina

28. Louisiana

29. Pennsylvania

30. New Hampshire

31. Kentucky

32. Virginia

33. Ohio

34. New Mexico

35. Oklahoma

36. North Carolina

37. North Dakota

38. Delaware

39. Tennessee

40. Arizona

41. Iowa

42. Wyoming

43. Idaho

44. Alabama

45. South Dakota

The survey appears in the magazine’s April issue.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Cicero, K., Child Magazine, April 2005. Associated Press.