As the first-ever National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month kicks off today, scientists say the problem may be even more widespread than previously thought. Researchers have found that parents tend to under-report their children's weight - so much so that estimates of obesity and body mass index based on parent-supplied data may miss one in five obese children.
This sobering news underscores the need for Let's Move campaign, Congress established the observance in an unanimously passed resolution that seeks to "raise public awareness and mobilize the country to address childhood obesity." More than 70 national organizations - including YMCA of the USA, the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education - have joined together as the National Council on Childhood Obesity Awareness Month to educate parents, policymakers and others about the problem and encourage preventive action.
During the past four decades, obesity rates have soared among all age groups, increasing more than fourfold among children ages six to 11, according to the council. More than 23 million children and teenagers (31.8 percent) between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese, a statistic that health and medical experts say constitutes an epidemic.
But Chuck Runyon, chief executive officer of the Anytime Fitness chain, disagrees. In fact, Anytime Fitness is launching a nationwide campaign featuring TV commercials and full-page ads in USA Today and People magazine declaring, "There is no childhood obesity epidemic." "Too much blame is being placed on the kids," says Runyon, who also founded the Coalition of Angry Kids to encourage adults to become better role models in health and fitness. "Somebody needs the courage to stand up and say, 'The primary reason we have so many overweight kids is because they have poor role models: overweight adults.' " He cites a report by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry stating that if one parent is obese, there is a 50 percent chance that his or her children will be obese; those odds jump to 80 percent if both parents are obese. To back up Runyon's claims, beginning this month, more than 1,300 participating Anytime Fitness clubs will offer adults free 30-day memberships, free 30-minute personal training sessions and free 30-day access to online support.
Though other related activities planned for this month may still be in development at the local level, the U.S. Soccer Foundation will host "Kick-Off Day" Soccer for Success programs in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., on September 22. The afternoon clinics are intended for children and their parents, and Soccer for Success programs will continue to run throughout the school year to provide kids in kindergarten through eighth-grade with free after-school soccer programming. "Organized youth sports programs, that provide guidance on healthy eating and nutrition, should be at the center of any strategic national effort to fight childhood obesity," says Ed Foster-Simeon, president of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. "By offering soccer programs that provide participants with mentoring, tutoring and nutritional guidance, we can ensure that our children develop not only as athletes, but as people."