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Column: Steps taken to reduce obesity for kids' health

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Obesity has become such a crisis in the United States that the American Medical Association approved a measure last month to classify it as a disease.

Research quantifies the problem. One in three adults is obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just as disturbing is that more than 17 percent of children in 2010 could be classified as obese, the CDC reported. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle at an earlier age combined with eating foods high in sugar, fat and sodium have contributed to this problem.

Local health leaders are keenly aware of the national issue and are trying to tackle it with a sound approach that could yield short- and long-term success, by placing an emphasis on the health of Bartholomew County’s children.

By shaping diet and exercise habits early, they are trying to make children healthier now but also set a pattern that is more likely to continue with healthy habits in adulthood. If that happens, the county’s adult obesity rate should continue to drop.

Small gains have been made in that population. The latest Community Health Assessment, conducted in 2012, recorded a decline in the number of overweight and obese residents in Bartholomew County for the first time since the surveys began in 1996. The 2012 rate showed that 63.2 percent of adults in the county were overweight, a drop from 67.9 percent in 2009, the previous year the study was conducted.

That percentage was lower than state and national averages, but still alarmingly high. However, tackling obesity at the earliest level, childhood, is a smart way to achieve long-term results.

Columbus pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Hartwell is starting a “Families on the Move” program this summer to help families rethink what foods they eat and their activity levels.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. already has made changes, including offering healthier choices in vending machines and increasing physical activity. The school district’s wellness policy, adopted in 2010, specifies that:

All cooked foods offered as part of a meal will be baked or steamed.

Schools will be encouraged to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers.

Schools will sell only low-fat milk.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are prohibited in the school cafeteria and vending machines.

All elementary school students shall have daily recess.

Children will have a unique opportunity for exercise during the Mill Race Marathon weekend in late September. Not only will it encompass a full and half-marathon and a 5K run/walk on Sept. 28, but organizers are offering a kids “fun run” Sept. 27.

These steps by local, city and county leaders are important ones. And ones that should be supported by the community, because the health of children today can dictate the health of the community’s adults tomorrow.

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