Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Dr. William H. Olson's name.
We have heard time and again about our nation’s obesity epidemic, and one way we can tackle the crisis is to look at where it often begins: in childhood.
In California alone, more than 30 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight. The national trend also is alarming: The obesity rate among children and adolescents has nearly tripled since 1980.
Without immediate action, these children will likely become obese adults, and a recent study indicates that this is an issue of life and death. Obese children are twice as likely as their healthyweight peers to die from disease before age 55, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. In addition, obesity is also straining our national economy with America spending $147 billion in direct health care costs associated with poor diet and physical inactivity, according to the UnitedHealth Foundation’s 2011 America’s Health Ranking.
We cannot remain idle. That’s why UnitedHealthcare and San Luis Obispo County YMCA have teamed up to help fight the obesity epidemic, aided by a $1,000 grant through the United-Health HEROES program. More than 280 schools and community-based organizations nationwide, including 12 in Northern California, have received UnitedHealth HEROES grants to implement local, hands-on programs to fight childhood obesity in their communities.
We are encouraging youths, parents, educators and members of the community to join us in this effort. It can be as involved as the “Rethink Your Drink Soda-Free Spring Challenge” program, which engages fifth- and sixthgraders to reduce their consumption of sugary, unhealthy beverages. Some participating students will be trained as presenters to conduct outreach to other kids and adult programs at select Y locations, while others will monitor soda consumption. The Rethink team will also calculate calories saved as well as the health impacts culminating in a publicity campaign with presentations to public officials.
Here are additional ideas on how to help keep kids active and eating right:
Have your kids help in the kitchen, packing a healthy lunch or making a nutritious dinner.
Have a basket of fruits and vegetables out for kids to snack on throughout the day.
Have your kids try one new food every week; you never know if your children will like eggplant if they don’t try it!
Experiment with smoothies. Carrots, spinach, a handful of berries and some low-fat yogurt make a delicious and nutritious treat. Kids will think it’s dessert!
Encourage your child to walk or bike to school. If you drive them, arrive early and take a walk around the school before starting the day or when you pick them up at the end of the day.
Some city recreation centers have indoor pools for a nominal fee. At the SLO Swim Center, for example, daily rates range from just $2.50 and $3 for kids and adults, with monthly discount passes available.
If you belong to a gym, take your child with you. Many gyms have a childcare center with lots of activities to entertain kids while mom and dad are working out.
Enjoy bridges, waterfalls, ponds and cascades at the Reservoir Canyon Trail just outside San Luis Obispo for great hikes year-round.
It’s time to empower youth as problem-solvers in the fight against childhood obesity. If we work together as acommunity, we can achieve our common goal of helping our children’s generation overcome obesity.
To learn more about the HEROES program or how to apply for HEROES grants, visit http://www.ysa.org/HEROES.
Dr. William H. Olsen is senior medical director at UnitedHealthcare of Northern California, and Jennifer Rhynes is chief executive officer of the San Luis Obispo County YMCA.