Inching along against childhood obesity

August 9, 2013 

For kids, obesity has many side effects, beyond the established health problems it can bring later in life, from diabetes to heart disease. Kids who are overweight are taunted, which can cause them to be shy, or resentful. They have trouble joining in running and swimming and playing ball, and limits on physical activity only increase their problem with weight.

If they withdraw, they may take comfort in food as a companion. And candy and soda pop makers don’t do them any favors with endless commercials, on children’s television. Fast food places are all too happy to deliver portions far beyond anything reasonable or healthy.

Offer a bow, then, to those brave souls in the medical community who are taking up the cause of reducing obesity. It’s no easy task, and as statistics show, progress is so hard to achieve that even holding steady on the rates of obesity from one year to the next is considered a victory of sorts.

North Carolina, like other southern states, tends to have more of a problem with kids obesity than other states, something that shows up in a Centers for Disease Control report on childhood obesity rates for low-income preschool children. That’s an important age at which to begin addressing the problem. As children get older, bad habits are harder to break.

North Carolina’s obesity rate for that group is 15.5 percent, roughly 1 percent higher than the national average. That’s not good, but several groups in the state are facing up to the problem and trying to do something about it. Bull City Fit is a program in Durham that is part of Duke Medicine’s weight clinic for children and adolescents. It’s free, active in the community with volunteers and stresses getting kids more involved in play rather than talking to them only about losing weight.

And the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation has put $30 million into healthy living programs over a number of years. One official of that foundation made it clear that leveling off the traditional increases in childhood obesity is a victory, maybe not as much as cutting the rates, but a victory nonetheless.

It’s a sign, the foundation’s Jennifer MacDougall said, that “things are moving in the right direction for our state.”

The foundation isn’t just about weight-loss. It helps see to it that child care centers provide healthy food and exercise; that community groups and churches try to educate families and that schools stock local food. There have been previous efforts to curb sugary treats and drinks in schools, with mixed results.

North Carolina’s version of the WIC program (Women, Infants and Children) also promotes low-fat, low-sugar foods. And the state’s public health agencies work on the problem as well.

Attention to the problem by parents could be an effective foundation for everything else. It’s hard, but necessary, to say no to the standard high-sugar treats kids love so well. But in the long term, it’s worth the stuck-out lower lips and slammed doors of protest. Some day, when they’re running track, or even taking a long walk through the neighborhood, they’ll thank you. Really.

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