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The War Against Childhood Obesity - TV Smart Talk

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Feb 15, 2012 12:37 AM

The state of Georgia stirred up controversy with a gripping anti-childhood-obesity ad campaign earlier this year.  The number of overweight and obese children continues to climb across the country, posing serious health risks to them and exacting heavy costs on society that has to pay for their medical care.  How far should we go to get our kids healthy?  That's our second segment on Smart Talk, tonight at 8 on witf TV.

The Georgia ads are tough to watch, but some health advocates say it's time for America to get serious about promoting healthy eating and helping young people shed the pounds and gain muscle and self confidence in the fight against obesity. The statistics are alarming.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.  The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.  In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

What constitutes obese?  According to the CDC, "Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.  Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.  Overweight and obesity are the result of "caloric imbalance"—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors."

Obese kids are at risk for heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease, and Type 2 diabetes.  And keep in mind that obese kids are likely to become obese adults.

The message about healthy weight and nutrition for kids is a tough sell in a state like Pennsylvania and a region like the midstate where York County proudly heralds itself as, "The Snack Food Capital of the World."  According to the latest statistics from the CDC, Pennsylvania ranks 19th in the percentage of obese adults (28.5% of the population.)  Nearly 30 percent of children in PA are considered overweight or obese, ranking PA 20th in that category.

Dr. Michael Consevage, a pediatric cardiologist at Moffitt Heart & Vascular Group, will share his insights on the rising number of young patients he sees who face potentially life-threatening complications and long-term negative health consequences from excess weight.  Dr. Ron Williams, chief of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center's Pediatric Weight Management Program, also is on the panel.   

Producer Heather Woolridge takes us to a kid-centered exercise and nutrition program, "Kids' Club Fit," offered for 10 weeks at the Lower Paxton Township Friendship Center Anita Adam, a mother of two and principal of The Adam Group, a public relations and marketing firm, brought the Exercise is Medicine program to Central Pennsylvania after becoming alarmed about the high incidence of childhood obesity.  "There is no pill or medicine that can "cure" the problem.  Solving the problem incorporates family lifestyle changes," Adam explains.  "This program  is a 10-week introduction to a healthier lifestyle.  It takes parents and children working together to make these changes.  We approach a healthier lifestyle as a puzzle, and each week we ask the family to "incorporate a new piece" of knowledge into their lives.  For instance, piece No. 1 is getting the proper rest.  Nine to 12 hours a night is what is recommended for children.  Piece No. 2 - Learning about and Limiting added sugar  -- 40 grams is the recommended limit, we teach children how to convert the grams into teaspoons and limit their sugar intake. Each week, the program builds on another topic.  At the end of the 10 weeks, the children and parents are well educated on what they need to put into practice for a healthier lifestyle." 

In another positive development, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved new food standards last month that require schools to offer more fruits and vegetables and less fat to the nation's schoolchildren.  Starting this fall and phasing in over the next three years, schools must serve more whole-grain foods and less sodium- and fat-laden products.  And the menus must adhere more closely to appropriate portion sizes for the children.

Carol Gilbert, a Lancaster County-based food-service and safety consultant to schools, cafeterias and restaurants, hails the USDA's latest changes.  "The school cafeteria is part of the school day.  And it is really a learning laboratory providing that avenue to teach that child the correct way to eat," she says.     

Students can expect to see deeper palettes in their lettuces, legumes and fruits.  Many foods, Gilbert notes, that likely are not served in their homes.  "Those changes are a positive move to increase and encourage students to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables," Gilbert adds. "We have seen over the years that student acceptance of fruits and vegetables have changed in a more positive note.  We are ensuring they are getting better quality nutrition from those food items as opposed to filling up on lots of bread carbohydrates or extra-large portions of protein."

Yet, in an era of ever-tightening belts due to budget cuts, can school districts afford the higher price of fresher foods?  "There's going to be some growth and reevaluation of how schools are menuing food items," Gilbert says.  "When we look at the fact that the protein is going to decrease in portion size, that's going to have the power to offset the (price) increase of the fruits and vegetables."

And, Sarah Glunz, an in-store nutritionist with Giant Foods, will offer practical advice to parents on how to prepare and encourage our children to eat and enjoy healthy foods.

We welcome your comments live at 1-800-729-7532, through email at smarttalk@witf.org, or post a comment to Facebook.  Please join the conversation!

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