SALT LAKE CITY – Children in Utah and elsewhere are the focus of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. The effort attempts to shine a light on what some health and medical experts have called an “epidemic.”
According to the National Childhood Obesity Awareness website, more than 23 million children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Statistics show that obesity is as much as 8 percent higher among African American and Hispanic American children versus Caucasian children.
Dr. Bill Cosgrove, president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Utah chapter, said families in low-income neighborhoods often lack access to healthier foods.
“In the inner-cities you can find fast food,” Cosgrove said, “but you can’t find a supermarket that has fresh vegetables.”
Cosgrove noted that making small changes, like going for a walk or cutting out soda, can make a big difference in changing overall lifestyle. According to the most recent Utah Department of Health figures, one in five students under age 12 is overweight or obese.
Families eating more fast food and exercising less are among the major causes of obesity, both in children and adults, Cosgrove said, adding that moms and dads should lead by example, by exercising with their kids and also by eating healthier food.
“What’s healthiest for the family is to have the parents not send the kids out to exercise, but take the kids out to exercise,” he said. “Obviously, the exercise is good for the parents, too.”
Cosgrove warned that being overweight can also hurt a child’s chance of having fun, at school and with friends.
“Kids who are overweight have a bigger chance of being bullied,” he said. “They have a bigger chance of being skipped for the birthday party, and they have a bigger chance of having self-esteem issues. It’s a problem on many fronts.”
Cosgrove said obese children are at greater risk of suffering from Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke.
National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month encourages parents and the community at large to promote and embrace the benefits of an active lifestyle and a healthy diet.