Childhood Obesity Isn't Going Away

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), June 12, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Childhood Obesity Isn't Going Away


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Laurie Trieger and Jimmy Unger

As leaders of Lane County's childhood obesity prevention group, the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth, we applaud The Register-Guard for the May 28 front-page article on the important and close-to-home topic of the childhood obesity epidemic.

The article cited a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study that showed the prevalence of overweight American children is holding steady at about 32 percent. This figure is particularly startling in light of the fact that obesity has serious health implications: most notably diabetes, heart and vascular disease and, ultimately, premature death.

It is important not to be misled by this report.

We believe, based on our daily work and involvement locally to try to make a dent in this epidemic, that now is not the time to let up on efforts to prevent childhood obesity.

The study's lead author, Cynthia Ogden, is quoted as saying, "There may be cause for optimism." We would underscore the words "may be." The JAMA study indicates that the prevalence of childhood obesity has leveled off. It is unclear whether this plateau is permanent, is a brief respite, or, sadly, signifies the fact that, as a population, we can't possibly get any more overweight.

In previous columns published in this space we have discussed the sources of this epidemic. Clearly, the nation as a whole has not, in the span of one generation, become lazy and gluttonous. What has changed in the last 30 or 40 years is the environment - that is, external influences and forces that affect families' decision-making with regard to physical activity and nutrition.

Rapid increases in consumption of fast food and soda, larger portion sizes, more time spent in front of TV and computer screens, and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children - accompanied by decreases in physical activity and physical education - have made it hard for many kids and families to make healthy choices.

To counter these trends, behavioral changes will be required - and to affect the kind changes that must occur, we need more than knowledge. Public health experts tell us that to stem this epidemic, we need to change policies and inform civic decision-making to promote healthy physical activity and nutrition.

A number of issues need close examination: the availability and affordability of healthful food (particularly in some low-income neighborhoods), the multibillion-dollar practice of marketing unhealthful food and drinks to young children both in the media and on campus, and community planning decisions that make neighborhoods supportive of biking and walking.

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