Action needed to curb obesity in kids

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 8, 2004

The Daily Press reported Thursday that more than 30 percent of schoolchildren on the Peninsula are overweight or at risk for becoming too heavy, and some communities have rates above 40 percent.

The story focused on a report released Wednesday by the Peninsula Health District which states that the obesity problem on the Peninsula is equal to or even greater than it is nationwide. The report contains data on more than 18,000 children in Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg and James City and York counties.

It found the highest obesity rates in lower-income communities, where families are likely to have less money for healthy foods, awareness of good nutrition or safe places to exercise. The worst figure was 43.7 percent in the Southeast community of Newport News. The best was 24.7 percent in a section of lower York County. The health district does not cover Hampton, which has not collected similar data.

Email newsletter signup

While the report touched only on Peninsula communities, it is a nationwide problem and it’s certainly likely that the rates in Suffolk are similar to or even greater than those on the Peninsula.

Childhood obesity poses many serious health risks, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and liver damage. Among the many causes are too much junk food, not enough exercise, emotional stress, genetics and the high cost of nutritious foods.

The new report relies on height and weight data collected last spring by local schools. Armed with those numbers, health leaders will look for funding to bring nutrition and fitness programs to problem areas, such as YMCA classes in the East End of Newport News. The health district also is preparing reports for specific schools.

That there is such a problem locally is not surprising and correcting it does not take rocket science. Children need to eat better, eat less and exercise more. They need safe places to play; they need parents who refuse to rely on fast food or junk food to meet their nutritional needs; schools that stop pushing junk food through vending machine contracts; and they need to be educated about the dangers of failing to address the problem.

If such a study has not been done for Suffolk, it’s overdue and we hope the city and schools will work to assure a healthy future for our kids.