Ky. Voices: Engage youth in fight against childhood obesity

Let's engage youth in the battle

February 12, 2013 

Dr. Jeffrey Beardmore is senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky.

Childhood obesity is on the rise, and we can't afford to sit idly and simply watch our children's waistlines grow.

UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky is working to empower youth to take the lead as problem solvers in the fight against childhood obesity. Through the UnitedHealth HEROES program — a wellness initiative developed by UnitedHealthcare and YSA (Youth Service America) — young people are encouraged to work with educators and youth leaders to create and implement walking, running or hiking programs aimed at helping fight childhood obesity.

In Kentucky, UnitedHealthcare recently provided a $1,000 grant to the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association in Frankfort for its project to address childhood obesity.

This grant will help establish a Childhood Obesity Youth Advisory Board, which will train 20 students from across the state to focus on advocacy efforts, information gathering and service planning on the state and local levels to combat childhood obesity. With the guidance of adult staff, youth will discuss issues including lack of physical activity in schools and homes and lack of access to affordable healthful foods.

Students then will choose a topic on which to focus a service-learning project. They will meet with community leaders, public health officials, business leaders and health educators at least four times, culminating on Global Youth Service Day in April.

The short- and long-term impacts of obesity on our children's health — and on our nation — can be devastating. They range from greater risk of bone and joint problems to cardiovascular diseases such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Obese children are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, putting them at greater risk for other health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.

But the good news is obesity is preventable and reversible. As many parents and children seek to undo unhealthy weight gain following the recent holiday season, it is an ideal time to ask ourselves: "What can we do to reverse this alarming and potentially deadly trend?"

From a child's first breath, the top priority for every parent should be to make sure the child is properly fed, which means plenty of healthful food, but not more than a youngster needs. Early health screenings can also detect many potential issues, including obesity. By measuring a child's body mass index, a doctor or nurse can detect weight issues early and help get the child on the right track through exercise and nutrition counseling, further testing or other programs aimed at preventing obesity.

Health and human-services providers — nutritionists, schools and health care companies — can further contribute to tackling childhood obesity by helping educate children and parents about healthy nutrition and proper exercise.

Another way is to educate and engage youth in the battle. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new initiative, "Let's Move," with an ambitious goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.

No single idea is going to fix the issue. But national and local efforts like these, when taken together, can improve the lives of our children. It's time we all play a role in helping our children's generation overcome obesity.

For tips and ideas for getting healthy, go to Letsmove.gov. To learn more about the UnitedHealth HEROES grant program, go to YSA.org/HEROES.

Dr. Jeffrey Beardmore is senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky.

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