Pediatrician Beth Andrew has always enjoyed working with children because she likes taking care of healthy individuals. Unfortunately, though her preference hasn't changed, the number of healthy children has.
"Until recently, I was not used to seeing children with health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle," she said at the official kickoff this week of the Tennessee Healthy Weight Network's plan, "Eat Smart, Move More, Tune In." Developed over the past two years, the plan hopes to promote a healthier lifestyle for Tennessee children by changing cultural norms about health.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that, since 1980, the number of overweight adolescents has tripled. More than 20 percent of Tennessee children are currently overweight and early figures show many more to be at risk.
The figures have disturbing health-care implications: Type 2 diabetes, closely tied to obesity and once almost never seen in children, is increasing among youth. At the kickoff, a dietitian even mentioned that this generation of children might not have the life expectancy their parents did.
"One thing that was evident from the start was that this did not happen overnight or from one cause," said Marian Levy, associate director of health promotion and grants management with the Children's Foundation Research Center. She said increased use of technology, a decrease in the time allotted for physical education in schools, and more dangerous neighborhoods all contributed to the problem.
The plan includes recommendations for schools, faith-based organizations, and families. For instance, the plan recommends schools use fund-raisers like dance marathons or fruit sales rather than selling candy. For families, it encourages parents to plan physical activities they can do together and to limit TV and video time.
"It's really up to the parents," said Levy. "The parents are the ones who are going to the grocery stores and buying the food. They set the atmosphere." n