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Childhood obesity reaching critical levels quickly

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. It is estimated that 20 percent of children in Missouri will be obese by the end of 2010, according to Bonnie Linhardt, Missouri state advocacy director, American Heart Association.
Linhardt backed her statement up by saying research is showing “the childhood obesity epidemic is largely due to a decline in regular physical activity and a diet that is high in empty and fat-laden calories.”
“Promoting Healthy Kids through Active Play” is a workshop presented by the University of Missouri Extension for childcare providers, after-school program coordinators and interested parents. The workshop is scheduled for June 3 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Ray County Health Dept., located at 820 E. Lexington Street in Richmond.
Research indicates that children are following adults in leading more sedentary lives and this trend is also appearing in the school environment.
“Over the last 10 years, Missouri schools have decreased the time allocated for physical education while increasing the time that kids spend sitting in the classroom,” said Linhardt.
Linda Starr, curriculum and technology editor at Education World, wrote an article, “No Break Today,” that offers some insight into why this is happening.
“Faced with a need to find more time to meet increasing educational standards, a number of U.S. schools have either eliminated recess altogether or reduced the amount of recess time students get,” Starr wrote.
The National Center for Education Statistics conducted a survey in 2005 that indicated, “since the 1970s children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play and a 50 percent decrease in unstructured outdoor activities.”
“Our nation’s young people are, in large measure, inactive, unfit, and increasingly overweight. In the long run, this physical inactivity threatens to reverse the decades-long progress we have made in reducing death from cardiovascular diseases and to devastate our national health care budget. In the short run, physical inactivity has contributed to an unprecedented epidemic of childhood obesity that is currently plaguing the United States. The percentage of young people who are overweight has doubled since 1980.” (information quoted from a 2000 report from the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education)
Starr questions the wisdom of reducing physical activity time in schools. She queried, “Eliminating or reducing recess, some policymakers say, gains more time for learning. But does it gain more learning time?”
According to Starr’s research, this is controversial. She believes the time spent in two recesses more than makes up for the time viewed as ‘lost’ in learning in the classroom, citing the benefits of exercise increasing blood supply and chemicals to the brain that increases mental abilities.
“Childcare programs can have a strong impact by making sure children participate in age-appropriate amounts of active play each day, and by adults modeling active lifestyles for young children,” said Lynda Johnson, R.D., University of Missouri Extension Specialist.
Johnson said the workshop is interactive and will help attendees examine their own programs/lifestyles to plan more active times for children and includes ideas for outdoor and indoor play. She also indicated, “Many innovative and practical ideas will be given on ways to encourage children to be active, and the recommended activity guidelines for children reviewed.”
The workshop is part of the 2009 childcare provider training program series presented by the University of Missouri Extension. Pre-registration by May 27th is required. The workshop is accredited for two clock hours for licensed childcare providers.
There is a fee for the program to cover the cost of the materials and supplies. To pre-register, or for more information, contact the Lafayette County Extension Center at 660-584-3658, or email John...@missouri.edu.

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