Locals take steps to fight childhood obesity
Over the past 35 years, the percentage of American adolescents who are obese has tripled, rising from 5 percent to almost 18 percent, contributing to rising healthcare costs, according to a report from the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (NAS IM). NAS IM contends that local governments can, and should, do more to help reverse the trend.
Cities and counties can create environments that make it easier for children to eat healthier diets and be more active, according to the report, “Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity.” For example, cities and counties can focus on community policing to improve safety around public recreational sites, limit video game and TV time at publicly run after-school programs, and tax high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks.
However, the first step is getting organized, says Cascade County, Mont., Commissioner Peggy Beltrone. Last month, the county and Great Falls convened community leaders, school system and city and county government representatives, and health care professionals to work on a plan to reduce obesity rates among young residents. “We had, in the past, several groups that were working on subsets of childhood obesity, but not necessarily focused as a whole,” Beltrone says. “We are looking at forming a coalition to work on childhood obesity prevention policies throughout the community to support the good work that people have individually been doing.”
Beltrone agrees with NAS IM’s assessment that local governments can have a direct role in reducing childhood and adult obesity through the policy decisions they make. That could include making certain that walking trails connect to schools or using zoning laws to restrict fast-food establishments near schools. “Those are the traditional roles of city and county governments,” Beltrone says. “We think we do have a lot of determination to how we can make our communities healthier for our children.” >hr />
KIDS MIGHT NOT ‘JUST GROW OUT OF IT’
Obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One CDC study found that 25 percent of obese adults were overweight as children, and that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.