Obese children face serious health problems, now and later

SALT LAKE CITY – Nearly one-fourth of Utah thirdgraders are at an unhealthy weight, and more boys than girls are overweight or obese.  These statistics, along with new facts about childhood unhealthy weight in Utah, were released Wednesday in the Childhood Overweight in Utah, 2012 report.

“The report is being released during National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month to highlight a public health problem plaguing our youth,” said Melanie Wallentine, Health Communications Specialist with the Utah Department of Health’s Physical Activity, Nutrition & Obesity Program.

If left unchecked, conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, once primarily affecting adults, will increasingly bombard children.

“The percentage of obese children has more than tripled since the 1960s,” said Rebecca Fronberg, PANO Program Manager. “Overweight and obese children are also more likely to become obese adults.  We hope this information will help Utahns understand the magnitude of childhood obesity in our state.”

Childhood obesity can be reduced through lifestyle changes.  Some strategies include:

  • Children should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
  • Children should eat at least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 1½ to 3 cups of vegetables daily.
  • Children should rarely have sugar-sweetened drinks and should eat few high-calorie foods with little or no nutritional value.
  • Parents should limit screen time – television, computer, and video games – for children age 2 and older to no more than two hours per day, and zero hours for children under age 2.

The PANO Program supports community efforts to combat childhood obesity. An example includes the TOP Star – Targeting Obesity in Preschool and Child Care Settings – Program, which works with child care providers to increase physical activity and improve nutrition in licensed child care facilities.  “A healthy environment allows children to develop healthy habits,” stated Jessica Haymond, PANO Program Healthy Child Care Coordinator.

In addition, Gold Medal School, a program adopted by several Utah schools, improves students’ academic success through policies and environmental changes that support good nutrition, physical activity, and staying tobacco-free.

“Gold Medal Schools makes it possible for elementary schools to provide physical activity and healthy nutrition choices at a time when budget cuts and testing requirements overshadow physical activity and nutrition,” said Sarah Roundy, Health Specialist with the PANO Program.

For a copy of the report and for ideas on how to help your child eat better and maintain a healthy weight, visit www.choosehealth.utah.gov.

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