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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Must-Read: Childhood Obesity

The Washington Post is publishing a spectacularly good and important series on childhood obesity this week. Everybody knows what a tragedy this is personally for obese kids--the social isolation, the shame of group exercise, the pain of bad knees, the constant doctor visits and being out of breath just by standing up.

But the public costs are huge too: As these children grow up they will tax the medical system with unimagined numbers of diabetes cases, high blood pressure, asthma, joint problems, psychological problems, heart and circulatory issues and more. Here's a telling quote:
"There's a huge burden of disease that we can anticipate from the growing obesity in kids," said William H. Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a wave that is just moving through the population."
The series is the best I've seen documenting the crisis. It covers the biology of childhood obesity, a timeline showing how we got into this mess, a look at public and private efforts. It also offers possible solutions at both the personal and public levels, and tips for helping kids live healthier lifestyles.

One of the most vivid parts of the package is this graphic showing the toll that obesity takes on a child's body, from ankles and liver to brain and heart. Scary stuff.

The Post series even covers the presidential candidates' recommendations for responding to the problem. [Hillary: strong government role. Barack: coordination with federal leadership. McCain: Personal responsibility.]

For wellness professionals, the series offers several opportunities:
Use it as a tool to educate parents on the importance of helping their children maintain a healthy weight.

Use it as an opportunity to introduce family activity into you wellness program.

Use it as a way to teach parents about the importance of modeling. You can't expect your kids to have healthier habits than you do.

Use it to launch programs aimed at kids themselves, such as fun group activities that provide exercise but aren't really formal exercise programs that might turn kids off.

Be sure to send the URL for the Post package around in your next wellness newsletter, so as many of your clients and customers as possible can get educated on the issue.
So don't miss this important opportunity to play at least a small part in responding to a growing national health crisis.

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