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Monday, March 28, 2011

America's childhood obesity crisis: DC SCORES' approach

Last week, we threw out some staggering numbers from The Washington Post’s Childhood Obesity Summit that demonstrate how dire this nation’s childhood obesity crisis is.

In Washington, DC the situation is bleaker. The District has the ninth highest obesity rate (35.4 percent) in the country. In poorer parts of the city, it’s even worse.

Ward 8’s childhood obesity rate? In some neighborhoods, it’s as high as 50 percent. This is mind-boggling, and especially disturbing.

Children who are overweight are at great risk of remaining unhealthy into adulthood and being prone to heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Just 15 years ago Type 2 Diabetes was exclusively an adult disease. Today, roughly 3,700 Americans age 20 receive a diagnosis annually.

It’s no surprise that 80 percent of people treated for Type 2 Diabetes are overweight.

So how can this epidemic be fought? No solution to such a problem is simple, but DC SCORES combats it on the most basic level.

We provide an outlet through which kids can lead healthy lifestyles.

At many of the 26 schools we serve, there is little to no outdoor “green space.” Maybe there’s a playground. But there isn’t enough space in which to play organized sports, in which to get substantial exercise.

Not only that, but many of the schools’ neighborhoods lack safe parks where kids can participate in physical activity after school.

And with students getting close to no exercise during the school day, it’s no wonder there are so many overweight children in these under-resourced neighborhoods.

DC SCORES fills the void. Every one of our 800 students receives 270 minutes of exercise per week through soccer practices and a weekly game. At the summit, three-time Olympian gymnast Dominique Dawes said, “If you’re a young child, the guidelines are 60 minutes a day, five days a week.”

Our program, alone, provides about 55 minutes a week.

At those schools lacking in space, soccer coaches utilize the gym or find an alternative space for practice. There are no excuses. Soccer is played. Then on game days, we provide buses to take schools’ teams to schools that do have fields. The girls and boys teams play 40-minutes games (or 60-minute contests at the middle school level).

Evaluation statistics point to the effect playing soccer has on our students. Among the findings of our 2008-09 outcomes report:
  • Boys classified as Overweight decreased by 10 percent
  • Boys classified as Obese decreased by 2 percent
  • Girls classified as Obese decreased by 3 percent
But more important than numbers, we have created an activity that students enjoy. An activity that our students want to continue pursuing once they leave our program.

DC SCORES instills in kids a desire to be physically active and healthy. We empower them to take control of their lives.

After all, we all know that forcing habits is ineffective. If the boy or girl doesn’t want to exercise, they’re not going to.

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