Nevada combats childhood obesity

Today's youth are considered the most inactive generation in U.S. history, according to the American Obesity Association.

Fifteen percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight and at risk for obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Obesity also increases the chances for high blood pressure, sleep apnea and gall bladder disease.

In the last 20 years, obesity has doubled in children and tripled among teens, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Although statistics for Nevada's obese, and youth more specifically, are rarely complied, state legislators are taking steps to address the alarming epidemic.

Headed by Sen. Valerie Weiner, D-Las Vegas, a subcommittee of the legislative commission on health care has been formed to study and address the medical and social costs and impacts of obesity.

"There is not one health condition that isn't worsened by obesity." Weiner said. "We will be studying its impact on productivity in the state."

Weiner said the committee will conduct a behavioral risk factor study then begin prevention efforts in schools.E

"We will focus on prevention and early intervention and look at practices and communities in other states," she said. "We are driving for a long-lasting, positive change."

Weiner has already worked with schools in Vegas to create cost-efficient nutrition and physical education programs. She said the State Board of Education unanimously endorses the efforts of the subcommittee.

Educators and schools in Nevada said they will continue to try to keep kids active with or without legislative support.

According to the American Obesity Association, only 6 percent of middle schools provide daily physical education. Carson City's Eagle Valley Middle School does.

Students are required to exercise every school day for about 55 minutes, said physical education instructor Brian Montgomery.

Students participate in calisthenics, jumping and running. They run a mile about once a week.

Montgomery said in a class of about 30 to 40 kids, there is usually one to three who is obese. Montgomery said he believes the obese children are dealt with in a respectful manner.

"We allow the bigger kids to power walk until they build up endurance, but we don't push the kids. We let them improve at their own pace," he said.

Montgomery said he tries to aid his overweight students in a discreet manner.

"It's not fair to single out students," he said. "I approach the student in a way where his self-esteem remains intact and he still feels like he is making progress."

Montgomery said the physical education curriculum includes information on nutrition and health.

"We teach them about eating right, daily exercise for a good half hour and good food in general," he said.E "The kids know it is good to eat fruit and vegetables, but they don't know how to count calories. That's kind of too complicated for them. The point is to get kids to move and make suggestions."

On a national level, the federal government has sponsored programs to combat the problem. Arguably one of the most successful is a program called "VERB, it's what you do." The program focuses on increasing the amount of a child's physical activity.

The VERB program specifically addresses ages 9 to 13, the middle school age. Creators said they believe it is necessary to inundate children with messages of healthy living, saidE Mike Greenwell, director of the Commission for Chronic Disease with the Centers for Disease Control.

"Kids need to be surrounded by these messages at home, school and just about anywhere in the community," Greenwell said. "We have had unprecedented interest in the issue of childhood obesity because people can tangibly see the effects of this disease""

He added that pediatricians are now urged by the American Academy of Pediatrics to notice the effects in their patients and aid them in proper steps to battle obesity.

"That is a wonderful sign of increased awareness," he said.


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