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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Taking on an epidemic: How DC SCORES fights childhood obesity

With September the first ever National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, it’s a good time to highlight how DC SCORES combats this national crisis.

And a crisis, it is. The numbers tell the story. Over the past four decades, childhood obesity has increased more than fourfold among those ages six to 11, and more than 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight -- a statistic health and medical experts consider an epidemic.

(Note: Obese means the 85th-95th percentile of overweight.)

Even scarier? A whopping 40 percent of Hispanic boys and 30 percent of African-American adolescent girls are obese. (Of DC SCORES’ 750 participants, 65 percent are African-American and 33 percent are Latinos.)

Visit the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month website for more telling statistics.

The epidemic, unfortunately, is as bad here as anywhere, making our program and others that provide physical activity to participants vital. In the District, more than 35 percent of children ages 10-17 are obese.

The health effects of childhood obesity are even scarier than the statistics. Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases; are at greater risk for bone and joint problems; and are likely to remain overweight into adulthood and at risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, strokes, and several types of cancer.

So how can these risk factors be avoided? Obviously, eating healthy is important – but especially for children, getting exercise on a daily basis is vital.

DC SCORES’ poet-athletes receive more than 120 hours of physical activity annually during the school year through playing soccer. Just by running up and down the field for an hour each day, they are living a healthy lifestyle.

Many students who enter our program are out of shape and, often, obese. Within weeks of playing soccer, they are moving much better, losing weight, and feeling better about themselves. This isn’t to say that three months of playing soccer cures obesity, but it certainly helps move children in the right direction.

In January 2010, we published an outcomes evaluation that was the result of testing and surveys from the 2009 school year. Physical fitness tests were administered before the start of our programming season and at its conclusion. The following results, among others, were taken through testing:

  • Boys classified as Overweight decreased by 10 percent.
  • Boys classified as Obese decreased by 2 percent.
  • Girls classified as Obese decreased by 3 percent.
  • Overall, there was a “statistically significant” decrease in BMI levels.

Clearly, our program helps to fight this difficult battle that the nation is engaging in against childhood obesity. Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and now this highly publicized month, the crisis is getting more than enough attention – and new ideas and funding for them are streaming in.

To learn about ways to get involved in helping us fight the epidemic, visit the DC SCORES National Childhood Obesity Awareness website.

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