Monterey County kids are among the plumpest in California.

The Great Outdoors: Carmen Gil (left)of Building Healthy Communities at the Breadbox Recreation Center in Salinas, says densely populated East Salinas needs more parks and outdoor activities to help curb childhood obesity.

Childhood obesity rates have fallen in several places across the nation, including California, according to a recent report. But Monterey County, despite a small drop, still has the state’s fourth-highest rate of overweight and obese kids.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls California, which ranks 25 among U.S. states, a leader in efforts to reduce childhood obesity. But Monterey County sits near the top of the state’s list, with a 44.6-percent overweight or obese rate. A 2011 report by the University of California Los Angeles found a 0.8-percent decrease in the county from 2005 to 2010. 

“The amount of decrease is virtually nil,” says Larry Imwalle, executive director of the nonprofit Action Council. “For the past three decades, the rate has been going just up. Seeing it, for a shorter period like this, flatten out represents a change.”

Lisa Hernandez, health officer at the Monterey County Health Department, says childhood obesity can carry over to adulthood and lead to issues like diabetes and heart disease.

The county’s economy factors in. Seasonal agriculture and hospitality jobs bring inconsistent paychecks, making it harder for low-income families to plan meals. 

Hernandez cites one study finding a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet costs around $3.50 if one is buying junk food, while getting that much in healthy foods like fruits and veggies runs $30-plus. 

In East Salinas, Building Healthy Communities is advocating for more green space and hosting exercise events. At a 5,000-meter race last year – the first event of its kind in the area, according to BHC Manager Carmen Gil – more than 200 kids under 13 participated. 

“It showed the need and desire for the community to get engaged in more safe physical activities,” she says. 

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