Guest Column

November 22, 2011

By Contributor

Continuing the fight against childhood obesity

We have much to celebrate and be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In King County, we are fortunate to live in a community committed to helping people access healthy food.

Yet much work remains to be done, especially in supporting our children’s health.

By the time our children in King County reach middle and high school, they will have a better than one in five chance of being obese or overweight. By the time they are adults, more than half will be obese or overweight — causing debilitating health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and adding hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs locally.

If we want a healthier King County, we need to address obesity. The King County Board of Health has worked on many steps to increase access to healthier foods for families and children.

We know families are busy, and they increasingly eat out, so the Board of Health passed landmark legislation that requires chain restaurants to display nutrition information, such as calories, sodium and carbohydrates. These are basic nutritional facts so families can make informed choices.

The Board of Health recently developed guidelines that organizations and businesses can use to offer healthier options in vending machines. We know sugary drinks — such as soda and energy drinks — are a major contributor to childhood obesity because they consist of large amounts of extra calories with little to no nutritional value.

We also have encouraged school districts to schedule recess before lunch. Research shows that students eat better and are more ready to learn when they are physically active before lunch.

But there is still more to do.

First, everybody in our community — parents, schools, religious groups, elected leaders — should continue working to make sure healthy options are available so our children can eat healthy and be active in schools, child care facilities and other places where they spend time away from home.

At home, families can do their part by helping their children stay active and eat well. Children need at least an hour a day of physical activity, and sugary foods and drinks should be limited — children younger than 6 years should not have sugary drinks at all.

Finally, let’s continue programs that are working. Many important programs are facing reduction due to the state budget crisis — such as the Women, Infants and Children farmers market program that allows families most in need to purchase nutritious, locally grown food and Maternity Support Services that helps connect at-risk pregnant women to prenatal care, nutrition, housing and more. These two programs focus on prevention and giving infants and children the best opportunity for a healthy start — saving money and improving health in the long run.

Poor diet, lack of physical activity and smoking are the leading causes of illness and death. To turn this around, let’s focus on children and support their healthy choices now for a lifetime of good health.

Kathy Lambert is a member of the King County Council and King County Board of Health. Dr. David Fleming is director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

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