The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Association of Children's Museums are teaming up on a program to combat the obesity epidemic among America's children.
The program - called We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition) - is taking place in Boston, Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh, which have been designated as We Can! cities.
Other We Can! communities include Armstrong County, Pa.; Carson City, Nev.; Gary, Ind.; South Bend, Ind.; and Roswell, Ga.
"I am really confident that this partnership among the federal government, the We Can! program, the Association of Children's Museums, and civic organizations is ultimately going to lead to healthier children in the United States, healthier families, and better health-care outcomes for everybody," says acting US Surgeon General Rear Admiral Dr. Steven K. Galson.
Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the NIH, says childhood obesity has reached "crisis" proportions.
"We are facing a crisis, and we must find ways to change the tide that is facing us and affecting our children," says Dr. Zerhouni.
There are more than 12.5 million overweight children and teens in the US. Dr. Galson says obesity is a big contributor to such childhood health problems as high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and asthma.
"Chronic diseases cause seven out of 10 deaths," notes Dr. Galson. "And the costs are staggering."
Dr. Galson explains that portion sizes have increased while life in America has become more sedentary.
"Our kids are growing up with unhealthy lifestyles, the consequences of which could be with them for the rest of their lives," he says.
"Reversing this epidemic does not have one answer," he adds. "It's going to take a concerted action by all of us. We need to focus our activities on prevention - on what we can do today."
We Can! can be a model for overcoming the challenges of childhood obesity and overweight, says Dr. Galson. "Its partnerships are demonstrating how physical activity and sound lifestyle choices can make a difference and how communities can work together to make those lifestyle choices real.”
We Can! is an education program to help children ages eight to 13 years old to maintain a healthy weight. It is being implemented in more than 450 communities in 44 states.
Dr. Zerhouni says getting kids away from the TV and the computer is key to improving their health. Increased activity, better food choices, and smaller portions complete the arsenal for fighting the obesity epidemic.
The first We Can! cities are introducing the program to city employees, community groups, corporate wellness programs, health professionals, and schools.
While improvement in childhood obesity is vital, the results may not be seen for decades, says Dr. Galson.
"It's a national necessity with profound implications - we all have a stake in the outcome," he says. "The result may not be apparent for many years, but it's going to be a fitter, healthier, more physically active nation in which the epidemic of childhood obesity slows down."
In addition to the Association of Children's Museums, 40 national and corporate partners are starting We Can! programs in community centers, schools, health-care settings, corporate wellness programs, and faith-based organizations.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that after increasing for the last 25 years, the prevalence of obesity among adults has not risen in the past few years. Still, 34 percent of Americans ages 20 and older are obese.
"In view of these alarmingly high rates of obesity in all population groups, [the] CDC has made the prevention of obesity one of its top public health priorities," says Janet Collins, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
"We are actively working in partnership with state and local public health agencies, the nation's schools, community organizations, businesses, medical systems, and faith communities to promote and support healthy eating, physical activity, and healthy weight,” she says.
Always consult your child's physician for more information.
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Obesity is a chronic disease affecting increasing numbers of children and adolescents as well as adults. Obesity rates among children in the US have doubled since 1980 and have tripled for adolescents. More than 15 percent of children aged six to 19 are considered overweight compared to over 60 percent of adults who are considered overweight or obese.
Earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity-related depression in children and adolescents are being seen by healthcare professionals.
The longer a person is obese, the more significant obesity-related risk factors become. Given the chronic diseases and conditions associated with obesity and the fact that obesity is difficult to treat, prevention is extremely important.
A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is because the likelihood of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood is thought to increase as the child ages.
Breastfed babies are 15 percent to 33 percent less likely to become overweight, and those who are breastfed for six months or longer are 20 percent to 40 percent less likely to become overweight.
Therefore, the longer babies are breastfed, the less likely they are to become overweight as they grow older.
Young people generally become overweight or obese due to a lack of physical activity in combination with poor eating habits. Genetics and lifestyle also contribute to a child’s weight status.
Recommendations for prevention of overweight and obesity during childhood and adolescence offer a concerted approach.
Gradually work to change family eating habits and activity levels rather than focusing on a child’s weight.
Be a role model. Parents who eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity set an example so that a child is more likely to do the same.
Encourage physical activity. Children should have 60 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More than 60 minutes of activity may promote weight loss and provide weight maintenance.
Reduce “screen” time in front of the television and computer to less than two hours daily.
Encourage children to eat when hungry and to eat slowly.
Avoid using food as a reward or withholding food as a punishment.
Keep the refrigerator stocked with fat-free or low-fat milk, fresh fruit, and vegetables instead of soft drinks and snacks high in sugar and fat.
Serve at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
Encourage children to drink water rather than beverages with added sugar, such as soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit juice drinks.
Always consult your child's physician for more information.