Begin obesity programs in early childhood

April 1, 2010
Paula Sauer

Customize your obesity program for children, beginning as early as preschool

More recently, First Lady Michelle Obama started her Let's Move program, which includes four goals: providing parents with information and support they need to help their children eat properly; ensuring that schools offer healthier food; helping children get regular physical activity; and ensuring that healthy food is available.

We're beginning to realize that much of the problem starts at home. Children naturally mirror their parents' eating habits and by age six, research shows, they are 15 times more likely to be obese if their mothers are overweight. Efforts to prevent obesity should focus on children by age four because federal studies show that if obesity begins before eight years of age, obesity in adulthood is very common.

Although the body-mass index (BMI), which is used to determine obesity, is calculated the same way for children and adults, the criteria used to interpret the meaning of the BMI number for children are different from those used for adults. For children, BMI age- and gender-specific percentiles are used because the amount of body fat changes with age and differs between girls and boys.

HEALTHY LEARNING PROGRAM

Under the direction of a sustainable-agriculture program, Ohio-based not-for-profit Veggie U is teaming up with teachers, parents, nutritionists and physicians to provide school children with learning opportunities about making healthy food choices. With fourth graders across the nation as the primary target, the educational venture is one example of a way to change how children look at healthy foods.

The five-week educational program, hosted on a farm in Huron, Ohio, gives school children the opportunity to grow their own fruits and vegetables. For those unable to visit the farm, the program is taught directly in schools. More than 1,800 classrooms participated in Veggie U during the last school year, giving more than 45,000 students the opportunity to learn about growing plants, environmentally friendly sustainable agriculture and how to read food labels.

There is little doubt that programs such as these will help make a difference in preventing childhood obesity. Delivering educational programs to children should be a top priority for the industry and the nation.

When it comes to changing mindsets and lifestyles, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing has a greater impact on health and healthcare costs than the motivation to make the right choices. This is especially important as we try to make a difference in the lives of children and promote a healthier lifestyle for future generations.

Paula Sauer is vice president of care management for Medical Mutual of Ohio.

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