A push for progress on childhood obesity

March 21, 2014 

Children who have poor eating habits that lead to obesity often know no other way than junk food high in sugar and calories and fats and virtually all the ingredients that will place the seeds for a lifetime of trouble.

But when those habits are with a person almost since the first breath is taken, it’s not as easy as it may sound to adults who don’t have weight problems to “just do something about it.”

Even adults who develop diabetes later in life – and who know when the diagnosis comes that to not change their habits will almost certainly cause grave health problems – have a tough time altering their lifestyles.

So consider, then, little kids (many of them lower income) whose parents, having been raised on the same food, feed them cheap fast food or carbo-loaded cereals or inexpensive generic soft drinks with sugar on sugar on sugar. If they don’t know any different, the children of the children of the children of bad eating habits will do the same and pass on the hazards to their own young ones.

A task force, specifically the N.C. Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Early Childhood Obesity, did consider them. Among the recommendations for health care providers are more training in how to deal with childhood obesity and compensation for providing care for families to address the problem. The group also wants child care providers to get more training in nutrition and for parents to have access to better education about how to avoid dietary pitfalls that see sees many very young children develop weight problems.

There’s a good program out there that could become a model. Shape NC: Healthy Starts for Young Children works with about 1,000 children in 19 communities and exists thanks to a $3 million grant, recently renewed, from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina.

Working with child care facilities, the effort has made a difference, with, for example, 80 percent of children with whom it works getting 90 minutes of physical activity a day. Other gains were reported in the percentage of children getting more fruit and more vegetables.

Parents want to do the right thing for their kids, of course. It’s wrong to blame them when one sees an obese child. Lower-income families are particularly vulnerable. Parents might have to work longer and less family-friendly hours. They find buying pre-packaged foods to be all they have time for. They can’t afford child care so their younger kids are left to their own (and not healthy) dietary choices.

For the children, food can become a comfort, especially if they’re overweight and can’t participate in physically demanding sports. They retreat into their homes, with the television. Their weight problems grow worse.

Their behavior isn’t the product of intention. It is how they cope with the difficulties of life.

To someone who has never had the problem, that may sound too sympathetic. But in fact, the problem is now shared by millions and millions of children, who will become millions and millions of overweight or obese adults. Then it becomes a problem for us all, with more medical care costs.

It is most fortunate that Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a company with an interest in preventing long-term problems and in advancing good medical care, has chosen to invest in this noble effort. The aim now must be to spread the word to areas all over North Carolina, to rural areas in particular, so that the next generations of children may know better health, and longer lives, than the last one.

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