We have heard time and again about our nation's obesity epidemic. One way to tackle the crisis is to look where it often begins -- in childhood.
In New Mexico alone, more than 32 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight. The national trend also is alarming. The obesity rate among children and adolescents has nearly tripled since 1980.
Without immediate action, these children will likely become obese adults, and a recent study indicates that this is an issue of life and death. Obese children are twice as likely as their healthy-weight peers to die from disease before age 55, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Obesity is also straining our national economy, as America spends $147 billion in direct health care costs associated with poor diet and physical inactivity, according to the UnitedHealth Foundation's 2011 America's Health Ranking (www.americashealthrankings.org/nm>).
We cannot remain idle. That's why UnitedHealthcare and Capital High School have teamed up to help fight the obesity epidemic, aided by a $500 grant through the UnitedHealth HEROES program. More than 280 schools and community-based organizations nationwide, including four in New Mexico, have received UnitedHealth HEROES grants to implement local, hands-on programs to fight childhood obesity in their communities.
We are encouraging youth, parents, educators and members of the community to join us in this effort. It can be as simple as our "Reach and Grow" program, where 45 student leaders will learn about human health, nutrition, obesity and the health risks associated with conventionally grown, highly processed and refined foods, as well as about the health benefits of fresh, organic food and gardening and organic-growing techniques through hands-on workshops.
Here are additional ideas on how to help keep kids active and eating right:
- Have kids help in the kitchen, packing a healthy lunch or making a nutritious dinner.
- Have a basket of fruit and vegetables out for kids to snack on throughout the day.
- Have kids try one new food every week; who knows if children will like eggplant if they don't try it!
- Experiment with smoothies. Carrots, spinach, a handful of berries and some low-fat yogurt make a delicious and nutritious treat. Kids will think it's dessert.
- Encourage children to walk or bike to school. If you drive them, arrive early and take a walk around the school before starting the day or when you pick them up at the end of the day.
- Some city recreation centers have indoor pools for a nominal fee. At the Salvador Perez Recreation Center Pool, for example, daily rates range from just $1 to $3 for kids and adults.
- If you belong to a gym, take your child with you. Many gyms have a child care center with lots of activities to entertain kids while mom and dad are working out.
- Take a hike and pack a healthy lunch for an afternoon picnic.
It's time to empower youth as problem-solvers in the fight against childhood obesity. If we work together as a community, we can achieve our common goal of helping our children's generation overcome obesity.
To learn more about the HEROES program or how to apply for HEROES grants, visit www.ysa.org/HEROES, www.ysa.org/HEROES.
Dr. Christopher Stanley is senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of New Mexico; B.J. Davis is the executive director of Earth Care.
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