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Preventing Childhood Obesity

Nancy Stephan
Staff Writer

   Because overweight children tend to become overweight adults, it is important to prevent and treat overweight children and reduce the risks of heart disease and other diseases. 

   According to the American Heart Association, reaching and maintaining an appropriate body weight is important. The AHA recommends permanent changes in eating and exercise habits, which will prove more beneficial than short-terms changes that cannot be sustained. 

ˇ        Reducing caloric intake provides the easiest change. Highly restrictive diets that forbid a child’s favorite foods prove more likely to fail.  

ˇ        Experts strongly recommend becoming more active. Increased activity is common in all studies of successful weight reduction. 

ˇ        Parent’s involvement in modifying overweight children’s behavior is important. Parents who model healthy eating and activity can positively influence their children’s health. 

   The American Obesity Association stresses the importance of teaching healthy lifestyle behaviors to children at an early age. Among these, physical activity and nutrition prove most beneficial when it comes to preventing obesity in children.

   In their “Campaign for a Healthier America,” Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and President Bill Clinton joined together to fight the battle of childhood obesity with the elimination of junk foods and soft drinks in the nation’s public schools. 

    “We are teaming up with the AHA to fight for healthier lifestyles for young people,” Clinton said. “The truth is our children are consuming more sugar and fatty foods than ever before.”  

   The current lack of federal funding adds to the increasing unease over the growing rates of obesity in young children. Schools often cut corners and offer cheaper foods with higher fat content or vending machines in order to break even. 

   The U.S. Legislature remains active in considering policy options to address the obesity epidemic. They recognized the importance of starting early to prevent the onset of chronic obesity. This led them to initiating a variety of policy approaches in order to create opportunities for both healthier diet and increased physical exercise beginning in early childhood. 

   Congress recognized the importance of schools promoting student health initiatives. In order to support their findings they passed a law (P.L.108-265), which required local education agencies to participate in a program such as the Child Nutrition Act and establish a school wellness policy by this year. 

   This Local Wellness Policy encourages school districts to set goals for nutritional education, physical activity and campus food provisions. It also requires the districts to organize committees, which oversee the development and implementation of the program and design methods for monitoring the results.  

   President Clinton and Governor Huckabee partnered with the “Alliance for a Healthier Generation” and worked with major food and beverage manufacturing companies to establish healthier guidelines for schools nationwide. Under these guidelines only lower calorie and nutritious beverages will be sold to schools for consumption during the school day. This was the Alliance’s first industrial agreement as part of its Healthy Schools Program, and it affects close to 54 million students across the country. Clinton and Huckabee co-chair the Alliance. 

    “Good health is more ‘caught than taught,’ and kids are more likely to do what they experience in the culture of their family than they are to fall into bad habits just because there’s a vending machine at school,” Huckabee said.  

   Together, leaders of The American Heart Association, The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the William J. Clinton Foundation and beverage industries provide new guidelines to help limit one of the risk factors of child obesity – soda in schools. 

   Under these new guidelines, elementary and middle schools will offer water, low fat milk and juice with no sugar added. Cutting back on the portion sizes will benefit students while most schools will offer students 8 oz. beverages to replace the 12 oz. currently provided. 

    “Americans now eat 50 percent of their meals away from home, think about that!” Clinton said. “But it’s not one single thing that is making us unhealthy. Kids today don’t exercise, but instead sit in front of a television or a computer screen. The ‘hurry up and get somewhere’ lifestyle causes fewer families to prepare meals, but instead do what is convenient.” 

   Monitoring the Mass Body Index of young children and adolescents provides a method that will prevent or decrease the rise in childhood obesity. This system involves a mathematical formula used to measure obesity in children and adolescents. BMI measures a child’s weight in pounds divided by their height in inches squared and then multiplied by 705. The resulting number correlates to the percentage of total weight resulting from fat opposed to bones or organs. 

   For children BMI is plotted on growth charts carefully calibrated for age and gender. This helps parents and health professionals trace the patterns of a child’s growth from ages 2-20, as compared to averages collected from large groups of children.  

   Fifteen states considered or passed body mass index legislation as recently as 2005. Others have considered or enacted additional policy approaches to address childhood obesity as follows: 

ˇ        Providing nutrition education or wellness initiatives in schools

ˇ        Measuring body mass index

ˇ        Increasing opportunities for physical activity during the school day

ˇ        Offering information on the nutrition content of school foods

ˇ        Taxing snack foods with minimal nutritional value   

   In the 2005 legislative session state legislatures in 39 states considered or enacted legislation related to the nutritional quality of school foods and beverages. 20 states considered legislation for school nutrition, 17 states enacted legislation, one state presented a legislative resolution to the lieutenant governor and one state vetoed the legislation.  

   Experts remain skeptical with regards to these guidelines making a difference in the fight against childhood obesity. However, we need to start somewhere. Small changes can make a difference. A recent study by the America on the Move Foundation found families who eliminated a minimum of 100 calories from their diet each day and walked an extra 2,000 steps, lost weight. 

   Governor Huckabee summed it up in these few words, “The fact is Americans are eating more and exercising much less. This has to go beyond the school lunch programs and school activities programs. We have to get moms and dads involved in this. If parents don’t set the right example, set the right table and set the right schedule then we’re not going to see this problem change.”

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ŠThe Voice 2006
01/13/2008 03:12:34 PM — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/4_11/obesity2.htm