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State, National Effort Takes Aim at Childhood Obesity

September 18, 2008

Burnsville, MN – Childhood obesity is now the top health concern among American parents – topping even drug abuse and smoking. That's according to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which has launched a national campaign to get kids in shape.

The Minnesota spokeswoman for the Alliance's "Healthy Schools Program," Kathy Martin, calls it an alarming situation; almost a third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, conditions that can lead to health, learning and social problems. One ominous symptom, she says, is the number of children showing "adult" heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

"In the last 20 years, these rates have doubled and, in some cases, tripled. Really, if current trends continue, this is the generation that might have a shorter life span than their parents."

The Alliance has designated September "Go Healthy Month" to help kids shape up. Martin says an unhealthy diet is a primary cause of weight gain, but since kids get most meals at home, parents certainly can "weigh in" on what's on the menu.

"If you're not a label reader, become a label reader. Look at the things you're picking up off the grocery shelf and putting in your cart. They may be marketed in such a way that they're going to seem healthier than they really are."

If the first item on the label is sugar, Martin says, that's a good sign it's not healthy. She also points to one encouraging development - the beverage industry is supporting efforts to make sugary drinks less available in schools. Martin acknowledges that kids have more armchair temptations than those of previous generations, including the Internet and video games. She believes the most effective way to get them on their feet and moving, is to join them in being active.

"We can't just tell our children 'go outside and play' or, 'go get active.' Kids who are involved in family activities are going to enjoy the process of being active much more than they are going to like being told: 'Your parent says go for a bike ride; you know, you're looking a little chubby around the edges.'"

The Alliance is a joint effort of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. More information is online at www.healthiergeneration.org

Jim Wishner/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MN