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EPI WATCH: Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
by: Rebecca Bohinc, Epidemiologist
As children return to school this fall, it is important to consider factors that affect a child’s overall health, especially during this transitionary period. September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month, which promotes awareness of obesity among youth in the United States as well as the importance of increasing health promotion activities within the home, school and local community. In the United States, one in every three children is considered overweight or obese as measured by body mass index.1 Data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys from 2011-2014 indicated that obesity among children ages 2-19 was greatest among Hispanics (21.5%) and non-Hispanic blacks (19.5%). When broken down by age group, obesity was most prevalent among children ages 12-19 (20.5%), followed by children ages 6-11 (17.5%) and children ages 2-5 (8.9%).2 The long-term consequences of being overweight from childhood to adulthood include increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and musculoskeletal strain.3
Locally, the Pinellas County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) has defined initiatives to increase the percentage of adults and children who are at a healthy weight and to adopt behaviors that improve long-term health outcomes. To achieve those initiatives, objectives were created to address community level policies, increasing access to nutritious and affordable foods and increasing access to safe environments for physical activity. As of the June 2017 CHIP, the percentage of middle and high school students and the percentage of adults of a healthy weight increased by 2.2% and 4.5%, respectively. Consumption of fruit and vegetables among adults and middle school children also improved as a result of community efforts. Two objectives failed to meet their target goals, including “the proportion of children in grades 1, 3 and 6 with a healthy weight” and “the percentage of adults who remained sedentary within the last 30 days”.4
It is important to remember that childhood obesity is preventable. As children adjust to a new routine at school, it is critical to ensure that children have opportunities to incorporate nutritious foods and physical activity into their day. Even small changes in behavior can initiate changes that improve long-term health outcomes. Suggestions to incorporate
healthy behaviors in the home are provided below.5
• Taking a walk as a family, go swimming, play tag, dance.
• Allow children to help plan and prepare healthy family meals.
• Substitute high-calorie snacks with healthy alternatives such as apples, bananas, blueberries
1 National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. https://
healthfinder.gov/NHO/SeptemberToolkit.aspx. Updated September 3, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.
2 Prevalence of Childhood Obesity in the United States, 2011-2014. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html. Updated April 10, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.
3 Childhood Obesity Causes & Consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://
www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/causes.html Updated December 15, 2016. Accessed September 1, 2017.
4 Community Health Improvement Plan Wrap Up Report 2013-2017. Pinellas County. http://pinellas.floridahealth.gov/
2017.pdf. Updated June 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.
5 Tips for Parents – Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Health Promotion
website. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/children/index.html. Updated August 9, 2017. Accessed September 1,