The statistics are staggering and frightening.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, it is now estimated that one in five children in the United States is overweight. In the past two decades, the rate of overweight children between the ages of 6 and 11 has doubled. And if that isn’t scary enough, the number of overweight American teenagers has tripled.
The most recent annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention delivered this sobering news: about 25 million American children and adolescents are overweight or nearly overweight.
And according to the experts from every medical and health organization of note, childhood obesity more often than not carries on into adulthood. It also sets the stage for weight-related health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and some cancers.
How did this happen?
The answer is multiple-choice. Pick one or select all of the above: poor nutritional diets, large portion sizes, increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, too much television and computer time, and too little exercise, particularly outdoor activities.
The good news is that this is a fixable problem. And it’s one that local community leaders and organizations are addressing. The Marion County Children’s Alliance, in cooperation with the Marion County School System, Marion County Health Department, and Munroe Regional Medical Center, has established the Childhood Nutrition Work Group. Acting as chairperson is Joanna Bennett, who is the director of Food and Nutritional Services for MRMC.
“Beginning in 2008, we will be focusing on the issues of childhood wellness and childhood obesity throughout Marion County,” says Bennett. “We feel like with all of the community organizations involved, we will be able to have a far-reaching effect throughout the county. We’re going to begin by targeting the age group of infant to 8 years old. The health studies point to that fact that if a child is overweight by third grade, it greatly increases the chances of that child becoming an overweight adult.”
The Childhood Nutrition Work Group will be promoting the 5-2-1-0 Plan developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- 2 or fewer hours of screen time (television/computer) per day
- 1 hour or more of daily physical activity
- 0 sugar-sweetened beverages
According to Bennett, both parents and children have a role to play in the plan.
“The parent needs to take on the authoritative role, not a restrictive one,” she says. “Instead of making it a negative situation, make it a positive one of providing healthy choices and alternatives. A parent should never use food as a discipline tool or as a reward. The parent needs to also be a good role model. Children copy what they see.”
As for the child’s role, Bennett says, “Keep it simple. The child should learn to eat when hungry and stop when full. The earlier they learn this behavior, the better.”
Sources: National Institutes of Health; Weight-control Information Network; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Mayo Clinic