The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 17 percent of youth in our country are obese. With an astounding tripling of childhood obesity rates in the past thirty years, our kids are now at a greater risk for a myriad of health problems, and some of these diseases went previously undiagnosed in children, like Type 2 diabetes.

PBS’ Need to Know series recently addressed the complexities behind the battle against childhood obesity, and policies that can help our children lead healthier, active lifestyles. As Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, noted in this report, our country’s obesity epidemic is “almost the logical consequence of policies and practices put into effect over the last century”. We couldn’t have said it better. Dr. Ludwig goes on to explain four major policy consequences that have been detrimental to the health of our children:

1) Mass availability of inexpensive, high caloric, poor nutrient foods
2) Allowing direct advertising for unhealthy foods to children
3) Junk food provided in school cafeterias
4) Limits our children’s physical activity

Beyond the consequences of our policymaking decisions, Need to Know also focuses on what is being done to mitigate these problems. The report honed in on Shape Up Somerville , the city of Somerville, Massachusetts’ multifaceted campaign to tackle childhood obesity. Funded initially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a study, Shape Up Somerville is a comprehensive movement to help children (and the community) lead healthier lifestyles. From educating families on healthy eating, to creating more bike paths and safe walking paths to school, to replacing all processed food in the school cafeterias, Shape Up Somerville is a community-wide effort, and one that has results. First Lady Michelle Obama has even recognized the Somerville’s efforts recently through her national campaign for healthy kids, Let’s Move!

Our country’s child obesity epidemic is a complex and serious matter that will involve a tremendous effort not only by our local communities, but the federal laws, funding, and programs that support them. Case in point, a successful program like Shape Up Somerville was started by a federally commissioned research program. Without the funding or laws to create these types of programs, our children’s health will inevitably suffer, and the cost is high—childhood obesity healthcare costs run about $3 billion a year. The good news is that there were almost 40 bills introduced in the 111th Congress addressing various issues that contribute to childhood obesity, including the pending reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. We can only hope that both in the lame duck session, as well as the 112th Congress, that the health of our nation’s children becomes a priority for both chambers.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

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