UT Extension offers programs to fight obesity

UT Extension offers programs to fight obesity

Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 8:01 pm

KNOXVILLE — America’s children are getting heavier by the day, and it’s a problem with significant health risks.
More than 23 million children ages 2 to 19 in the U.S. are now considered overweight or obese. In Tennessee, more than 15 percent of children 6 to 11 are obese. That figure was less than 4 percent in the early 1970s.
These alarming statistics prompted Congress to name September as the first-ever “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month” to bring attention to this issue and to motivate parents, children, schools and everyone to do something about this problem.
“We need to be concerned about the impact of childhood obesity. An overweight child is at-risk for being an overweight adult,” says Dr. Janie Burney, nutrition specialist with the Family and Consumer Sciences Unit with University of Tennessee Extension.
Obesity makes children more susceptible to adult health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.
So the question becomes, what can be done about it?
UT Extension is working statewide through a number of existing programs targeting children’s health, promoting exercise and good nutrition. Programs include “Healthy Steps” and “Power U” where Extension agents teach young children fun activities to get their bodies moving. The programs also include information about healthy snacks, encouraging children to try fruit and water as opposed to candy, cakes and soda.
“We have programs for kids of all ages — pre-school through high school,” says Dr. Burney. “We want them to learn about healthy lifestyles and to grow up healthy.”
“Healthy Steps” targets pre-school children, the youngest group ever reached by UT Extension with a message about good health. It was implemented in 21 counties in Tennessee in 2009, and UT Extension experts reached more than 140,000 people through this program. Some of those contacts came at Stoner Creek Elementary School in Mt. Juliet. Wilson County UT Extension agent Kim Woodson says “Healthy Steps” leaders cleverly disguise exercise. “They learn it’s not exercise, it’s fun. It’s fun to learn to jump and play and jump rope and do all these fun things,” she says.
UT Extension is also concerned about the health of adolescents. In Knoxville, the organization offers a program called “Power of Choice” in after-school settings. It’s to teach young people how their decisions about eating and physical activity affect their health now and for years to come.
There’s a carry-over effect. Many children will relay this information to their parents and encourage the adults to try healthier habits. “We target the kids directly, but we also work with adults,” says Dr. Betty Greer with UT Extension. “We also have to help the adults because they are the gate-keepers for good health in the home.”
Children aren’t the only ones hurting here. The Centers for Disease Control reports nearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and chronic diseases associated with excess body weight account for 70 percent of American deaths each year.
The obesity epidemic also costs the nation more than one trillion dollars in health care expenses.
Research indicates there’s some measure of denial among adults about their level of fitness and that of their children. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control reports that 9 out of 10 parents believe their children are fit, when only one out of three actually is fit.
For more information about fitness programs for youth and adults and nutritional information, contact the Obion County UT Extension office at 885-3742.

Published in The Messenger 10.06.10

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