Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ky., high in childhood obesity, fights it with better school meals, increased activity requirements and maybe help from Big Bird

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky children are some of the nation's fattest.

In 2011, the last year for which data are complete, Kentucky ranked sixth in the U.S. in the percentage of obese 2-to 4-year-olds from low-income families (15.5%), eighth for percentage of obese 10-17 year-olds (19.7%), and third in percentage of obese students in high school (16.5%), according to a project of the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (Read more

Kentucky has several programs in place to fight childhood obesity, such as improving food choices in schools with farm-to-school mini-grants and improved school nutritional guidelines. Efforts are also being made to increase the standard expectations of physical activity, according to the federal 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.  

Laws that require Kentucky school districts to develop local wellness policies for grades K-5 that includes moderate to vigorous physical activity each day and encourages healthy choices among students are a step in the right direction toward decreasing childhood obesity. This legislation also requires assessment tools to measure each child's level of physical activity on an annual level, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education website. There is also a push to increase the activity requirements in child care facilities, according to the CDC website.

The frequency at which children eat fast food, and its nutritional value, are also challenges in decreasing childhood obesity. Kids and teens consume up to 300 calories more per trip to a fast-food or full service restaurant compared to days they eat at home, Ryan Jaslow reports for CBS News. (Read more)

Although fast-food restaurants have made some improvements with healthier sides and beverage choices in most children's meals, "there is room for improvement," researchers say in the "Fast Food Facts 2013" report, issued by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

The report examines how 18 major restaurant chains market their foods and beverages to children and teens, and analyzes the nutritional quality of the chains' food. Significant findings included: Less than 1 percent of all children's meal combinations at such restaurants met recommended nutrition standards; McDonald's spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water and milk advertisers combined; the total amount spent on all advertising by fast-food restaurants in 2012 was $4.6 billion; preschoolers viewed 2.8 fast-food ads per day in 2012; children 6 to 11 saw 3.2 such ads per day; and teens viewed 4.8. The researchers also found that fast-food restaurants continued to target black and Hispanic youth, populations at high risk for obesity and related diseases.

Researchers called for fast-food restaurants to stop marketing unhealthy foods to children and teens, saying "Research shows that exposure to food marketing messages increases children’s obesity risk." (Read more

On the marketing front, "Sesame Street" characters have joined the Produce Marketing Association to help market fresh fruits and vegetables to children, according to a press release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Marketing healthy products with the same skill and vigor typically used for less healthy options could make a major difference in shaping children's food preferences," Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the foundation's president and CEO. "I have a vision of children pestering their parents for pears and begging for broccoli."

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