A Hope that Children Can Lead the Charge Against Obesity

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Perhaps it is the very young who will lead the United States out of the obesity crisis. That hope sprang into my mind after reading the headlines.

    The headlines trumpet new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows there has been a significant decline in the obesity rates of children between the ages of 2-5 years of age. The obesity levels dropped over a decade by a whopping 43 percent. In 2003-2004, the obesity rate for this age group was almost 14 percent; by 2011-2012, the obesity level had dropped to slightly above eight percent. In comparison, there have not been any significant changes in obesity levels among adults or children and teenagers between the ages of 2-19 during this time period.

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    And this latest report out of the CDC is especially good news since studies have found that children who are overweight or obese when they are 3-5 years of age are five times as likely to remain this way as adults. This report also coincides with additional data from the CDC that showed a significant decline in obesity levels among low-income children between the ages of 2-4 who were participating in the federal nutrition programs.

    What is triggering this decline? There’s not a definitive answer, although some hypothesize that it’s due to a variety of measures.  For instance, the CDC press release notes that many child care centers have worked to improve the nutritional choices and physical activity opportunities offered to their charges. In addition, youngsters are consuming less sugar-sweetened beverages. Another possibility is that breastfeeding rates in the United States have improved; this is important since children who have been breastfed tend to have a healthy weight when they mature. Some experts also suggest that these results may be due to local, state and federal initiatives that have been designed to lower childhood obesity, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program.

    So could these results lead to further good news? The answer is a hopeful maybe. Yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Dr. David Katz, the director and co-founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center speak at a conference held by Texas A&M University’s Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center. He suggested that creating programs about healthy eating and exercise for children could have an additional benefit: the kids would go home and talk to their parents about eating healthy and exercising.

    With this in mind, Dr. Katz is trying to cover all the bases by targeting young people and hoping their excitement – or nagging – will influence their parents.  For instance, Katz and his colleagues have designed ABC for Fitness. (The ABC stands for Activity Bursts in the Classroom.) This program is designed to provide brief bursts of activity throughout the school day without taking away from classroom instruction time.  The program's goal is to encourage students to participate in at least 30 minute of physical activity each day and to serve as a supplement to physical education programs in schools.

  • Dr. Katz and his staff also have devised Nutrition Detectives, which is designed as an instructional program that helps elementary school children search for five clues so they can select healthy foods. This program also gives students the opportunity to use food labels and ingredient lists to identify foods that are not healthy options. The program can be taught during one 90-minute session, two 45-minute sessions or three 30-minute sessions.

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    A third program that Dr. Katz highlighted is Unjunk Yourself, which is through Turn the Tide Foundation and KidTribe. (Dr. Katz serves as president and founder of Turn the Tide Foundation.) This particular initiative is designed to give tweens and teens important health messages related to health, nutrition, physical activity and weight control in a music video format.

    Hopefully, programs ranging from Let’s Move! to Unjunk Yourself will get kids of all ages thinking – and they’ll take that message on how to live a healthy lifestyle home to their parents. Here’s hoping!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). New CDC data show encouraging development in obesity rates among 2 to 5 year olds.

    Davidkatzmd.com. (ND). ABC for fitness.

    Davidkatzmd.com. (ND). Nutrition detectives.

    Tavernise, S. (2014). Preschooler obesity plunges. Houston Chronicle.

    Turn the Tide Foundation. (ND). Unjunk yourself.

Published On: February 26, 2014