Atmosphere

The Weighting Game

Alarming figures say Colorado kids aren't as fit as they should be.

October 2008

Coloradans like to boast about their active lifestyles and the state's reputation as the leanest in the country. So what's happening to Colorado's kids?

Nearly one-third of the state's children fit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition of overweight or obese. (The CDC assesses a child's risk according to an age- and sex-specific BMI, or body mass index, which is a weight-to-height ratio.) Colorado is following the same negative trend as everyone else. "We are continuing to get increasingly heavier and obese," says Sue Rodearmel, an obesity prevention specialist with the Fort Collins Coalition for Activity and Nutrition to Defeat Obesity (CanDO). "We're just starting lower on the projection line."

In the past 20 years, obesity among children six to 11 has doubled nationwide, and more than tripled among teenagers. The Colorado Children's Campaign, a nonprofit children's advocacy group, estimates that if this epidemic continues 76 percent of Coloradans will be overweight or obese by 2020. Already, obesity-related medical costs for Colorado adults exceed $874 million annually.

A 2007 report card issued by the Colorado Health Foundation gave the state an eye-opening C- for the health of children up to age 14. "We are living in an environment where we increasingly are eating foods with higher calorie density and bigger portion sizes, while we are also more sedentary," says Dr. Stephen Daniels, pediatrician-in-chief at the Children's Hospital. The problem has become so pronounced across the U.S. that earlier this year the American Academy of Pediatrics established new guidelines that suggest some kids as young as eight receive cholesterol medication to help head off such obesity-related ailments as diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

Organizations such as LiveWell Colorado, which works with communities to reduce obesity rates by implementing policies and programs, and the state Legislature have strengthened efforts to promote healthier lifestyles at a young age. In April, Governor Ritter signed Senate Bill 129, which requires public and charter schools to stock vending machines, school stores, and cafeterias only with beverages that satisfy minimal nutritional requirements. Schools could be doing more, Dr. Daniels says, but parents should also be held accountable. "They can encourage children to be more active and set limits on...sedentary activities, such as screen time," Dr. Daniels says. "Parents should be great role models for their kids in the areas of diet and activity."

Volunteer
The Children's Hospital
Help inform the public and motivate kids about physical activity through a variety of weight-management initiatives, including the Shapedown program and the GoodLife Clinic. Call 720-777-3352 or visit www.www.thechildrenshospital.org.

Educate
America On the Move in Colorado
Be a spokesperson or presenter for this homegrown initiative to educate the public about daily steps to decrease obesity. After starting in Colorado in 2003, the group has expanded to the national level. Call 303-315-9046 or visit www.americaonthemove.org.

Learn
Go Red For Women
Sign up for the local chapter of this American Heart Association program to learn about healthier meal planning and better food choices. Call 303-369-5433 or visit www.americanheart.org.

Join
Safe Routes to School
Encourage your kids to walk or bike to school if possible instead of riding in a bus or car, and enforce a safe route there by going with them. Join your local SRTS program or start your own. Call 720-865-3157 or visit www.denvergov.org/saferoutes.

Get Online
Check out these sites for tools, tips, and kid-friendly material:
www.actionforhealthykids.org,
www.bam.gov,
www.candoonline.org