This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
Most children face obstacles enough in life. Obesity – a preventable problem – shouldn’t be among them.
The Pierce County Health Department, YMCA, MultiCare and other community organizations deserve credit for their attack on childhood obesity, an epidemic of epic proportions in the United States.
Obesity isn’t merely being overweight; it’s being so overweight that grave problems are likely to arise from it – including heart disease, diabetes and, not least, bullying from classmates.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the rate of obesity among 6- to 11-year-olds rose from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008. Among 12- to 19-year-olds, the rate went from 5 percent to 18 percent. There’s no reason to think kids have gotten skinnier in the last four years.
Two factors are driving the trend: Eating junk and staring at screens. Fast food, snacks and sugary drinks pump the calories into them. The calories get packed away as fat when children spend hours a day parked in front of video games, television and computers.
Blame adults for most of this. They control what young children eat and how much time they spend gaping at pixels. In Washington, according to the CDC, roughly a third of all children aged 6 to 17 have televisions in their bedrooms. More than half of all high schools and middle schools provide ready access to high-calorie drinks and snacks during school hours.
A lot of these kids simply have the deck stacked against them.
But don’t underestimate the counter-attack. In the South Sound, a small host of organizations has been pushing back, often in close coordination.
In 2011, for example, MultiCare and the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap County launched their “5210” program to promote healthy choices. The number stands for five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less of non-educational screen time, one hour or more of physical exertion and zero drinks with added sugar.
A particularly elaborate partnership also involves the YMCA. A year and a half ago, officials of the financially strapped Franklin-Pierce School District felt pressed to eliminate physical education positions in elementary schools. The YMCA stepped in; by its account, it has since been providing 25 to 32 hours a week of P.E.-equivalent activity in those schools.
The strength of these efforts lies in the synergy.
Powerful international forces lie behind the obesity epidemic: Fast food chains, junk food producers, Hollywood, the television and gaming industries – all employing vast advertising budgets. What’s needed – and what we’re seeing – is ordinary citizens and community groups banding together to say, “Enough.”