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Our View: Combating childhood obesity epidemic an important mission

Published: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 5:40 a.m. CST

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We want what’s best for our children, which is why we all should be paying attention to the childhood obesity epidemic in our country. More importantly, we all should be acting to reverse this troubling trend.

In 1980, U.S. children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 19 held obesity rates of 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

By 2010, obesity rates in both age groups had increased to 18 percent, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A third of American children are considered to be overweight or obese.

Causes for the problem vary, but commonly include societal change, such as children spending more time in front of TVs, computers and gaming systems. And the food we eat – inexpensive fast food and soda, filled with empty calories and sold in large quantities – fits better into our on-the-go lifestyles than taking time to cook a healthy meal.

It would seem to be a problem with a simple solution – eat better and increase physical activity, and children should be healthier.

But the problem is behavioral, not logical. And it’s anything but simple.

In addition to the risk of increased health problems, such as diabetes or asthma, overweight children are more susceptible to bullying from their peers.

Their unhealthy habits likely will continue into adulthood. There could be long-term mental health issues.

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month, which is why the Kane County Chronicle presented a three-day series this week on the epidemic.

It was heartening to learn about the numerous local agencies and organizations that have realized the need to act and educate children and adults about childhood obesity and its risks.

Local schools such as Richmond Intermediate School in St. Charles offer programs that incorporate additional physical activity into their students’ days.

Vending machines – if available at all in schools – offer healthier fare than candy bars and soda.

Both Cadence Health and Presence Mercy Medical Center offer programs to help children who have been diagnosed with being overweight lead healthier lives.

In 2008, Kane County kicked off its “Making Kane County Fit for Kids” initiative, which has the goal of reversing childhood obesity in Kane County by 2020. Since then, the county has provided more than $430,000 to community organizations to implement local changes to increase healthy eating and increase active living.

Obesity is a disease best treated by preventing it from happening. The efforts done so far locally are encouraging – but they are just the start.

Communities must embrace the need to reverse this epidemic. The consequence of not doing so may best be summed up by this observation in a 2005 study in The New England Journal of Medicine: this generation of children could end up living shorter lives than their parents.

We want what’s best for our children. When it comes to their general health, we need to start showing it.

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