Childhood obesity

Whoever thought there would be a need to have an awareness campaign about the obesity rate of children? Sadly, there is cause for such a public outreach measure because more than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States are obese or overweight.

This month is National Childhood Obesity Month, an effort to bring communities together to combat the epidemic that is all too real for Utah.

According to the Utah Department of Health, from January to May 2010, 4,310 first-, third- and fifth-grade students from 69 randomly selected public elementary schools throughout the state were weighed and measured to assess the extent of childhood obesity in Utah. The data collected represented all public elementary schools in Utah and showed:

More boys were overweight or obese at every grade.

In 2010, the percentage of overweight boys increased dramatically from third to fifth grade.

In 2010, 20.4 percent of elementary school students were at an unhealthy weight.

In 2010, 9.7 percent of elementary school students were obese.

In 1994, 16.9 percent of third-graders were at an unhealthy weight. In 2010, it increased to 20.4 percent – an increase of 17 percent.

The numbers speak for themselves that Utah’s children are not getting a nutritious diet or enough exercise. Parents can help alleviate the problem by setting a healthy example of good eating habits and regular physical activity. There is outside help as well. The Utah Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan 2010 to 2020 is a 10-year action plan to reduce the burden of obesity. Its strategies advocate that:

Children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Children should eat at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 1.5 to 3 cups of vegetables daily.

Children should rarely have sugar-sweetened drinks and should eat few high-calorie foods with little or no nutritional value.

Limit screen time (television, computer and video games) to no more than two hours per day.

By following these recommendations, children of the 21st century will enjoy healthy weights into their adulthood and a month dedicated to educating people about childhood obesity will be not be necessary.