Maren Stewart: Childhood obesity

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September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and this critical issue has been the focus of several recent studies and media coverage. In particular, there was a national study recently released that touts great strides in many states’ childhood obesity rates, while Colorado stood out as one of few showing an increase. How could this possibly be?

With our sunshine-filled skies, mountain trails, farmers markets and farm-to-table eateries, Colorado always leads the pack in healthy living, right? In fact, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013, Colorado now is the least obese state in the nation, with the adult obesity rate at 20.5 percent. However, that rate has doubled in the past 20 years. We quickly must concede that our collective work is far from over when it comes to obesity in our state and nation.

Some perspective first: A recently released report published by the Centers for Disease Control’s shows that obesity among low-income preschoolers declined in 19 of 43 states studied from 2008 through 2011 — the first decline in decades. Colorado is reported as one of only three states where childhood obesity rates in this category actually increased.

Examining the numbers, Colorado’s upturn in the study puts us at a 10.4 percent obesity rate, while other states that reported declines show obesity rates upward of 11 to 17 percent. And data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show that our childhood obesity rates have dropped recently, to 8.4 percent in 2012, putting us back on the right track.

Regardless of whether the statistics move slightly up or down, the fact remains that childhood obesity poses a serious issue for our state and the nation. Children who are overweight or obese are five times more likely than their normal-weight peers to be overweight or obese as adults, saddling them with high risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.

LiveWell Colorado and our partners, including the Colorado Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, have been addressing childhood obesity head-on and will continue our collective diligence to reverse the trends for good. And the CDPHE has worked with the Woman, Infants, and Children program and early child-care providers to promote healthy eating and physical activity for our youngest residents. State efforts have increased breastfeeding in hospitals and work sites, while local food assistance programs, community support and federal programs help provide access to more affordable healthy food sources.

LiveWell Colorado works to make sustainable healthy changes in schools by training school nutrition staff to prepare scratch meals and growing school gardens, while advocating for more physical activity and the infrastructure needed for safe play and active transportation.

The only way we meaningfully can continue to reduce childhood obesity is if we continue these efforts together in earnest. It won’t be easy or quick, as the data show, but it’s the only way we can give Colorado’s kids the healthy future they deserve.

For more information about the issue of obesity in the state of Colorado and LiveWell Colorado, please visit: http://www.livewellcolorado.org.

Maren Stewart

President and CEO, LiveWell Colorado

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