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War on obesity vital for youngsters

In the past 30 years, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Today, nearly one in three children are overweight or obese. A third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. A recent study put health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year.

Declaring childhood obesity an epidemic in America, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a national campaign Feb. 9 to solve the problem.

“We’re determined to finally take on one of the most serious threats to their future: the epidemic of childhood obesity in America today – an issue that’s of great concern to me not just as a First Lady, but as a mom,” Obama said at a White House press conference announcing the campaign.

The Let’s Move campaign will combat childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that will mobilize public and private sector resources, as well as states, tribes, communities, and the nation’s leading health foundations.

This national effort can make a difference in Indian country, where childhood obesity and diabetes are rampant across all tribal nations.

A 1999 IHS study showed 39 percent of Native American boys and 38 percent of girls ages 5 to 17 were overweight. That’s compared to 26 percent of white children and young adults ages 6 to 19, according to 2002 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

IHS data from 2005 showed that 16.5 percent of Native Americans ages 20 years and older had diabetes. That rate was higher than rates for all other ethnic groups, including 6.6 percent of white adults and 11.8 percent of black adults, according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.

“The new campaign launched by the first lady Mrs. Obama on childhood obesity underscores the obesity prevention and obesity intervention work being done by tribes and the National Diabetes Education Program and other organizations around the country,” said Charlene Avery, a Navajo physician who serves as president of the Association of American Indian Physicians and chair of the NDEP American Indian Work Group.

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Avery said the message of “Let’s Move” parallels that of the IHS “Just Move It!” campaign. She said the first lady’s campaign includes efforts to get children moving and eating healthier, including goals of getting parents to move televisions out of their children’s bedrooms and to prepare healthy meals. These efforts echo those of many tribal community based prevention programs.

The campaign also will work with school boards to support healthier school lunches and will work with parents to grow family gardens and encourage as much physically active play time as possible.

“This new campaign can only strengthen the work already being done in our communities to prevent obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases,” Avery said.

President Obama last week signed a presidential memorandum creating the first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity, which will include the first lady and several federal agencies, including the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Education and Health and Human Services among others.

The task force will review programs and policies related to child nutrition and physical activity and develop a national action plan within 90 days to fight childhood obesity.

“(These efforts) will help our children develop lifelong healthy habits, ensuring they reach their greatest potential toward building a healthier and more prosperous America,” the president said in his memorandum.

The task will seek assistance from tribes, as well as state and local authorities, in developing recommendations to fight childhood obesity, according to the president’s memorandum.

Michelle Obama said she will also seek to double the number of schools in the HealthierUS School Challenge – a program that recognizes schools that work to provide healthy school meals and require physical education classes each week.

“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake,” she said.