This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

December 3, 2008

Addressing Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity (including being overweight) has arrived at epidemic levels. Globally, an estimated 22 million children under the age of five are overweight; ten percent of those aged 5 to 17 are overweight or obese. During the last two decades, annual obesity prevalence rates in the 5 to 17 age group have increased by 0.5 percent per year in Brazil, and by almost one percent per year in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, the rate among children has almost tripled since 1980.

This uptick in the US is attributable to exponential rise in the use of high fructose corn syrup in many foods. This benign-sounding, yet insidious, substance turns off the body's "appestat", which prevents the brain from alerting the eater the stomach is full.

Most initiatives responding to childhood obesity focus on nutrition, physical activity, and body composition. However, an article published recently in the peer-reviewed journal "Preventing Chronic Disease" proposes the use of a Canadian prototype, the Child Health Ecological Surveillance System (CHESS). CHESS involves regional health authorities and considers the role environmental influences play.

Meanwhile, numerous US programs focus on increasing physical activity and improving food choices. One popular program in the US is "NFL Play 60", The National Football League's "Movement for an Active Generation". Their current Super Bowl contest, called "Earn Your Stripes™", encourages young people to play 60 minutes a day. The grand prize is a trip to Super Bowl XLIII and the honor of presenting the official game ball to start the game.

The local YMCAs promote the “Activate America” program that provides rewards to children for their participation in fitness-related activities. Annually each spring, more than 1,400 YMCAs host a Healthy Kids® Day. Through fun, engaging, and creative activities, this interactive special event encourages children and families to adopt behaviors that support a healthy lifestyle.

As nations begin to feel the cost of treating obese adults, we expect to see an increase in these kinds of programs, focusing on all of the factors contributing to childhood obesity, not just a few. The return on investment will be substantial.


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