Healthy Kids : Activity Key to Childhood Obesity

Health officials repeatedly warn of the danger of childhood obesity that increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

A new study is driving home the seriousness of the situation.

Using National Health and Nutrition Survey data from more than 12,000 youth age 2 to 19, researchers found that the rates of childhood obesity in the nation have tripled, with the prevalence of severe obesity climbing from 0.8 percent in the period 1976 to 1980 to 3.8 percent in the period 1999 to 2004.

That suggests some 2.7 million children in the United States are severely obese -- a frightening trend which, if not reversed, could see a generation of children dying younger than the generation before them.

More sedentary lifestyles and poor food choices are key culprits. While schools have made headway in nutrition and wellness initiatives in recent years, there's a long way to go. Exercise, naturally, remains a priority.

But just as findings of the study on childhood obesity became known, a separate study revealed an increase in injuries to children during physical education classes. With a growing emphasis on more vigorous exercise in schools, injuries to youngsters were up 150 percent from 1997 to 2007.

The trend isn't a reason to discourage physical activity, of course, but rather a sign that school districts should consider ways to make phys-ed classes safer.

Too often, teachers who supervise gym classes -- particularly in elementary schools -- aren't trained in physical education, and might not recognize situations that could lead to injury. They also may not know proper warm-up exercises.

Children need help establishing good fitness habits early in life. With many youngsters more interested in video games, we have to wonder if they have any idea how to exercise. No one wants to see a child get hurt. But that possibility shouldn't keep children on the sidelines when exercise is a needed weapon against childhood obesity and chronic illness. Bumps and bruises, even broken bones that can occur during exercise and sports will heal. It's not so easy to mend the long-term health problems of children who become dangerously overweight.

On the Web:

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: What do you think could be done to curb the rising child obesity rate? Talk about it at

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Copyright © 2009, The Garden City Telegram, Kan.

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