Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. are not improving. According to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), childhood obesity is on the rise, tripling over the past three decades. While the steep increase in rates has leveled off in recent years, we are still facing a true epidemic with long-term consequences.
Today, about one in three children in the United States are overweight or obese, and more states and cities are taking action to help combat this disturbing statistic. Last month, Philadelphia became the first major U.S. city to impose a soda tax in an effort to decrease sugary beverage consumption. In Philadelphia, more than 68 percent of adults and 41 percent of children are considered overweight or obese.
Childhood obesity is now on the radar nationally and internationally, with the World Health Organization releasing a lengthy report in 2016 about how to address the issue worldwide. In the U.S., a hand full of states and cities are making progress with selected age groups. Nevertheless, the U.S. ranks among the most obese countries in the world. On a state level, Missouri is ranked 20th in the country, with nearly 30 percent of children ages 10 to 17 classified as overweight or obese based on their BMI.
We’ve all heard the reasons: lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating habits, genetics, sugar substitutes, aggressive food marketing, an increase in technology and internet use, fast-paced lifestyles, and more. Over time, all of these factors lead to poor health and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke; and can even decrease a person’s lifespan by an average of two to five years.
The nation has taken the first necessary steps toward movement on the issue just by recognizing these causes and beginning to make changes. In Missouri, MFH is catalyzing this work through the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) initiative. HSHC was established in 2013 to address childhood obesity through prevention efforts. We believe that by bringing together schools and communities, we’re able to connect with and empower parents, teachers, and children to work toward creating a healthier environment for young people. With additional education and programming, habits learned at school will eventually continue at home, for greater impact.
Approaches for this work include giving kids healthier food options and implementing sustainable outdoor amenities everyone can use like playgrounds, drinking fountains, walking trails, and community gardens. School policy changes establish healthier standards such as healthy treats at school-sponsored events as well as allotting more time for physical education classes.
We’re making headway.
Currently, 33 school districts and approximately 30,000 students benefit from HSHC. I encourage you to view our latest HSHC infographic to learn more about what our work entails and how our champions in this effort – our grantees – are on the ground enhancing communities and making Missouri a healthier place for our children and our families.
Implementing preventative measures, especially for our children, is a responsibility we all must take seriously and work on together. Changing the circumstances that cause childhood obesity will take time, but there’s no denying that there is a sense of urgency in addressing this issue.
As we and our partners continue to reach across Missouri in a movement for healthy change, we’re hopeful our efforts will also reflect a measurable decrease in our state’s obesity ranking. We are also optimistic that more communities, parents, and kids will truly understand the value of a healthy lifestyle and take advantage of the opportunity to make healthier choices in the future.