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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As National Childhood Obesity Month begins, much progress still needed

In September 2010, President Barack Obama declared September National Childhood Obesity Month.

Even for a president with many competing priorities and people to answer to, it was a no-brainer. Childhood obesity had become an epidemic in this country, an issue that could no longer be ignored — even by perfectly healthy people and their families.

Health care costs soared. The rates of Diabetes and heart failure -- particularly at young ages -- reached scary territory.

Not just adults but kids, beginning at a very young age, were getting bigger. Eating worse. Exercising less.


Fast forward to today, the third day of this year's focus-driven advocacy month. Things are better, relatively speaking. Thanks to NCOAM, Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move,' initiative, leaders across the country who advocate for healthier lifestyles, and nonprofit programs, the needle has shifted.

Obesity rates in many cities have dropped. Not significantly, mind you. The point is that they aren't trending in the other direction -- anymore.

Here's a sampling of the good news:

Obesity rates for children ages 2-5 dropped significantly from 2003-04 to 2011-12; there was a smaller decrease for children ages 6-11 (Wall Street Journal)

The number of obese teens leveled off and the rate of overweight teens dropped slightly between 2005-'06 and 2009-'10 (HealthDay)

In May 2010, DC passed into law the Healthy Schools Act, which has brought more nutritious foods in District meals for students and more education about healthy eating.

The number of schools with gardens, particularly in DC, continued to increase -- leading to healthier foods on children's lunch plates (elevation DC)

State programs in L.A. and New York helped lead to decreasing levels of obesity (U.S. News & World Report)

States like Colorado and California have added mandates to the school curriculum for a course in health and for teachers to have taken health classes, respectively.

The USDA made the first nationwide changes in 15 years to school meals (USDA)


Yes, progress has undoubtedly been made. Compare that with 2010, when you had to go back decades to see a positive trend, and we should be optimistic.

Still, we're plagued by myriad issues, particularly in Washington, DC. It remains a difficult, often unfeasible task for low-income families to get healthy and affordable food for their families. Food deserts aren't as vast, but still exist and provide obstacles for those who rely on public transportation.

And students still don't get close to the recommended amount of physical activity during the school day (60 minutes), and have few easy-access and free options during the after-school hours.

During the next month, follow @DCSCORES on Twitter as we share statistics and articles about the still-devastating local and national issue and also share how we — and others — effectively fight the epidemic and set youth up for healthy adulthood. 

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