In an era when food is fatter and saltier, a local group is tackling child obesity head on, thanks to a $20,000 national grant serving five municipalities in North Jersey.
It couldn’t have come soon enough: The state has the second-highest rate of obesity in the entire country among low-income 2-to 5-year olds (18 percent), according to a recent report commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The same report said a full quarter of New Jersey’s high school students are overweight.
Over the past four decades, the report says, the percentage of obesity in preschool-age children (2-5yrs) and adolescents (12-19) has doubled. The percentage for kids 6-11: more than tripled.
“We’re in danger of raising the first generation of children who could live sicker and die younger than the generation before them,” said Dr. James Marks, a senior vice-president of the RWJF (See the foundation’s Childhood Obescity webpage).
For instance, it’s been found recently that moderately obese and extremely obese children are at an increased risk of developing acid reflux — known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) — a precursor to cancer of the esophagus.
Compared with normal-weight kids, extremely obese children have a 40-percent greater risk and moderately obese a 30-percent greater risk, of contracting GERD.
Here comes the catch: Researchers are finding that an even balance of diet and exercise ISN’T the solution. What matters most is what kids ingest.
Salt may be one of the greatest poisons. Kids are particularly vulnerable: They don’t have as much blood as we do, and their vessels are weaker — making them targets for salt and the water it attracts.
Intent on stopping the ignorance, the Englewood Area Community Foundation (EACF) got a special grant, together with the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to fund a 18-month program beginning late September.
It will serve the city, as well as Teaneck, Hackensack, Bergenfield and New Milford.
Also participating will be the Bergen Family Center, the Community Partnership Improvement Plan, the city’s Health Department, Healthbarn USA and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
Community forums will be held; local pediatricians will be trained; and parents will be invited to workshops that teach them how to cook and shop for food.
“These funds will educate and bring resources to families in northern New Jersey that will help promote healthy nutritional choices,” EACF President Michael Shannon said.
But it’s just a start: Officials said they hope the pilot program is successful enough to piggyback onto a five-year initiative designed to statistically reduce the number of obese children in the targeted area.
Although they’ve begun on the nutritional end of the spectrum, there still needs to be some work on the other side of the seesaw.
A recent National Parent Teacher Association survey found that 40 percent of the nation’s elementary schools have abolished recess or are considering it.
That’s four of every 10 grade schools, if your math isn’t so good.
Blame the pile of frivolous lawsuits filed by parents of kids hurt AT PLAY — which has prompted some districts to restrict children from participating in certain activities (Remember dodge ball? Distant memory now).
It gets worse: Along with recess, many districts are also canning PHYSICAL EDUCATION.
As if all that weren’t enough, districts are being forced to enact their own standards for ensuring nutrition in foods served and sold in their schools — instead of the federal government.
But before we go blaming the schools too much, consider:
Not only are African-American parents more likely to underestimate their child’s weight: They are also among those more likely to have an overweight child, says the RWJF-commissioned study, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010.”
The report also found a trend among low-income Latino mothers who “actually prefer their children to be a little plump,” according to Strollerdeby (blogs.babble.com).
“[R]egardless of who they are,” the blog addds, “experts say a major contributor to weight denial among parents may be the simple fact that kids are bigger than they used to be.
“An overweight kid just doesn’t stand out from the crowd like he used to.”
Time to begin paying attention, folks. This is our kids’ health, safety and welfare we’re talking about.