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This is a sad statistic: One out of every three American children is already overweight or obese.
September is National Childhood Obesity Month, a time designated to bring further awareness to this problem and encourage action.
In the past four decades, obesity rates in the United States have soared among all age groups. This rise in obesity has affected our youth in alarming fashion. More than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2-19 are obese or overweight, a statistic that health and medical experts consider an epidemic.
This epidemic puts nearly one-third of America’s children at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke—conditions usually associated with adulthood. If we don’t solve this problem, one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives.
The website “Let’s Move” (www.letsmove.gov) explains how we got to this situation: “Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner. Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.
“Today, children experience a very different lifestyle. Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides. Gym class and after-school sports have been cut; afternoons are now spent with TV, video games, and the Internet. Parents are busier than ever and families eat fewer home-cooked meals. Snacking between meals is now commonplace.
“Thirty years ago, kids ate just one snack a day, whereas now they are trending toward three snacks, resulting in an additional 200 calories a day. And one in five school-age children has up to six snacks a day.
“Portion sizes have also exploded. They are now two to five times bigger than they were in years past. Beverage portions have grown as well. In the mid-1970s, the average sugar-sweetened beverage was 13.6 ounces compared to today, and kids think nothing of drinking 20 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages at a time.
“In total, we are now eating 31 percent more calories than we were 40 years ago, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American now eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970.
“Eight to 18-year-old adolescents spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media, including, TV, computers, video games, cell phones and movies, and only one-third of high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.
“Now that’s the bad news. The good news is that by making just a few lifestyle changes, we can help our children lead healthier lives–and we already have the tools we need to do it. We just need the will.”
There are opportunities every day to change these trends. September 2010 was the first-ever Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, calling national attention and action to this epidemic. This year, more folks are involved and there are many educational tools available to help parents, schools, faith-based groups and organizations. See what’s going on around the country at www.COAM-month.org.
There are things you can do with your family that can help. Parents have an enormous influence on their children’s lifestyles by the example they set and the decisions they make. By modeling healthy eating and physically active lifestyles, you can set them on the road to a lifetime of good habits.
There’s a great downloadable chart at the We Can! website of GO, SLOW and WHOA Food. GO foods are foods that are good for you; SLOW foods are those that you can eat in moderation; and WHOA foods should only be eaten rarely or on special occasions. We Can! means Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition. This entire website is full of ideas, fact sheets and recipes for families (www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan).
If you can’t download the GO, SLOW and WHOA food chart and would like a copy, contact us and we’ll mail or email it to you. The Brunswick County Health Department will be have its annual Health Fair this Saturday, Sept. 15, and Sunday, Sept. 16, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the County Government Complex in Bolivia.
Sarah Barnwell, extension agent in Family and Consumer Science and Myra Burgess, EFNEP program associate from our office, will be there with a display on healthy eating. You can ask them for this chart, too. For more details on the services being offered at the health fair, call the info line at 253-2439.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at NC Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.