About 1 in 3 youth (ages 2-19) in the United States are overweight or obese. The District of Columbia ranks ninth in the nation as a ‘state with the highest rates of overweight and obese children’ ages 10-17. In part because they lack access to healthy food and sports facilities, children from lower incomes are more likely to be overweight or obese — 23 percent of DC’s children, compared to a national average of 18 percent, live in poverty.
Childhood obesity is associated with increased cardiovascular risks such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, type 2 diabetes, and early development of atherosclerotic lesions. Some experts believe that if childhood obesity continues to increase at this rate, today’s children could become the first generation in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes,” but now children are exhibiting health problems normally associated with middle age. The accelerated onset of Type 2 diabetes is the result of modern-day lifestyle habits that include consuming too many high-fat calories and not getting enough exercise.
The rise in childhood obesity is linked to a dramatic increase in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes, as about 95 percent of children with type 2 diabetes are overweight at diagnosis. African-American and Hispanic children are developing type 2 diabetes at much higher rates than their Caucasian peers; in fact, almost half are at risk of developing diabetes.
The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she is to develop devastating complications. Young adults with type 2 diabetes are more likely to face problems such as blindness and kidney failure during their lifetimes, and they have higher rates of diabetes complications and heart disease than older adults with type 2 diabetes.
Physical activity is one of the most effective ways to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents are recommended to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least three days per week, preferably daily.
For children and adolescents, regular physical activity has beneficial effects beyond management of weight and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, including: increased muscular strength, increased cardio-respiratory fitness, increased bone mass, reduced blood pressure, reduced anxiety and stress, and improved self-esteem (and I’m probably leaving some reasons out).
DC SCORES’ soccer program provides our poet-athletes with over 120 hours of physical activity annually, or approximately 5 extra hours per week of programming, and educates our participants on the benefits of eating healthfully through a winter program called “The Power of Choice.”
“Power of Choice,” developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for after-school programs, teaches students proper nutrition, health, and physical fitness with hands-on curricula woven into soccer practice skills and drills.
Unfortunately, due to budget restrictions during the current fiscal year, and to avoid cutting essential elements of our core year-long curricula, the “Power of Choice” curriculum has been eliminated from our program. We are writing grants and looking for additional sources of funding to bring the necessary and worthwhile component back as part of the DC SCORES curricula.
The DC SCORES program also educates our students to be agents of change. In this way, we empower them to take the lessons they’ve learned in the program about physical activity and healthy eating back to their families and communities.
By educating our poet-athletes about the benefits of physical activity and healthy eating, DC SCORES is a player in the difficult fight to combat childhood obesity and curb the disturbing trend of type 2 diabetes in children.
-- Written by Katie Sieck, Development Assistant