The childhood obesity rate has more than doubled over the past two decades. Experts say 15 percent of kids are overweight these days.
The answer is the problem is one we've all heard before - it boils down to a healthy diet and exercise. For many families, the trouble is knowing how to start making the changes.
Physical education teacher Annette Nally is helping in that area. In her Indian Creek Elementary School classes, students spend a half hour in near-constant motion. When they're not moving, they're thinking about ways to live a healthy life. They discuss the snacks they ate the night before, whether they were good choices, and how to tackle a tempting situation, such as healthier choices they might make at a fast food restaurant.
"To see the kids being excited about activity every day makes us feel like we're on the right track," Nally said.
A $425,000 federal grant put the entire Seaman School District on that track. School Nurse Chris Tuck, RN, says a recent evaluation showed 19 percent of the school's students are at risk for being overweight. The district-wide wellness initiative includes screening kids for obesity, incorporating activities into the day, health education, family nights at the schools and follow-up with families.
"We can identify a student who's at risk," Tuck says, "but if we don't help them make a lifestyle change, they're not going to be successful."
Pediatric Hospitalist Dr. Jeffrey Colvin of Stormont-Vail HealthCare agrees its not about restrictive diets for kids.
"The whole family needs to be healthy and get involved," he said.
Colvin says a good place for families to start is to eat dinner at home to avoid the large portions and high-fat of restaurant and fast food. Next, he says to watch your grocery list. He says don't even bring soda, high-calorie juice drinks or whole milk into the home. The same goes for french fries, potato chips and other fried potato foods. To get children to eat more fruits and vegetables, Colvin says to let the child decide what they like and give it to them. He says even if that means eating grapes or carrots at every single meal, it's better than eating no fruits and vegetables at all.
As for activity, he says, don't think of it as exercise per se. He says you're not going to put a 10-year old on a treadmill or stair climber. Instead, he says offer up something your child wants to do. If he or she likes to dance, dance lessons are exercise.
Colvin also says it's important to set goals and help kids chart their progress. He says putting a star on a chart when a child plays outside for 30 minutes is one example. He says even walking is a place to start - anything that isn't sitting in front of a television or video game.
At Indian Creek, kids track their activity by wearing pedometers to see their steps. They also earn beads for healthy foods they eat and activity they do outside of school.
Nally says it's not about the rewards. She says the kids wouldn't do it at all if they didn't want to do it. In the process, they're getting in touch with moving ahead for a healthy life.
Colvin says rewarding kids for healthy behavior is fine, as long as the reward is not food. Instead, he suggests rewards like a special activity with a parent, or a trip to the zoo.
As for situations where a child is already overweight, Colvin says consult a doctor and/or nutritionist to find out how many calories the child should consume during the day. He says will likely be limited to three meals and two scheduled snacks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has much more free advice for families, including free videos. You'll find that by going to www.aap.org/healthtopics/overweight.cfm
The Junior League of Topeka will be holding a community forum on childhood obesity. It's set for 11 am to 2 pm, Wednesday, April 19, at Pozez Education Center.