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Eddie McReynolds of Starkville helps his 10-year-old son, Reece, develop his throwing skills for a game of disc golf. The McReynoldses practiced together near the Starkville Sportsplex on Sept. 3, 2014. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Linda Breazeale)

Children show progress in state's obesity battle

MSU Extension Service

September: National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month…

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi’s childhood obesity rates, like the pounds in an effective weight loss program, are slowly coming down.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released statistics reflecting a slight improvement among Mississippi high school students. From 2007 until 2009, 18 percent of the state’s high school students were considered obese. That peak declined to 16 percent in 2011 and 15 percent in 2013.

“We did not get into this situation overnight, and it will take as long or longer to reverse the trend,” said Brent Fountain, associate professor of human nutrition with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “It is definitely good to see improvement.”

Fountain attributed the improvement to educational efforts and to adjustments schools have made in physical fitness programs, lunchrooms and vending machines.

“We can’t point to just one aspect of weight control. It’s been a united effort on the part of parents, school teachers and administrators, as well as local school health councils that have sought the use of available community resources,” Fountain said.

An organized, statewide weight control effort has been underway for years. It includes a 2007 law that went into effect for all public schools beginning in the 2009-2010 school year that required 150 minutes per week of physical activity for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. High school students are required to complete about 70 hours of a physical education program to graduate.

“We have seen schools offering healthier options in their vending machines,” Fountain said. “Many school districts are seeking to use locally produced foods, adding variety and encouraging students to try new foods. It is good to provide exposure to new foods in an attempt to expand palates.”

Fountain said one factor in the nation’s weight gain has been the decrease in physical activity.

“Before we became industrialized, people consumed an average of 3,000 calories each day and burned 1,000 calories -- or we ate three calories for every one calorie burned,” he said. “Today, we average 2,100 calories, but we only burn 300 per day, which is a 7-to-1 ratio.

Unfortunately, our overall decline in calories hasn’t matched our overall decline in physical activity. We need to continue eating less, but we certainly need to move more.”

David Buys, Extension health specialist, said people should know all their health numbers, not just their weight.

“Blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index are all numbers people should know to judge their health needs,” Buys said. “Genetic factors are beyond our control. For example, some thin people have high cholesterol, and some people who are overweight never have a problem with their blood sugar. Still, these are very important numbers to know.”

Buys said parents need to set good examples for their children to be active and make healthy food choices.

“Family walks after supper or extracurricular athletic programs are good ways to be active,” he said. “Parents should not ignore problems as they begin to develop. Health care providers can offer suggestions to help.”

Buys said parents may want to put limits on screentime, including televisions, computers, tablets and smartphones.

“Recommendations are for less than two hours per day in front of a screen,” he said. “We all have to choose healthier options to stay in shape.”

Buys said the obesity epidemic is not limited to Mississippi.

“One in three children in the United States is overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for health problems that used to be limited to adults, like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” he said. “This epidemic needs to be addressed to prevent immediate and long-term health impacts.”

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Released: September 4, 2014
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