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Childhood Obesity A Concern in County

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — January 11, 2007 — In case you hadn’t noticed, kids are getting fat.
So what are you going to do about it?
If you think it’s not your problem, guess again.
“Children really are our future,” said Carol Ryan, head of Sullivan County Public Health Services. “If you don’t have healthy children, how do you have a healthy community?”
For the first time in decades, Ryan said health experts estimate life expectancies are dropping in America.
That means today’s kids are likely to live shorter lives than their parents.
And that, Ryan said, should make everyone in Sullivan County stand up and listen.
County residents – whether they’re experts on the subject or not – have a unique chance right now to do even more right now.
Ryan’s office is creating a community wellness committee, a group that will meet monthly to craft the county’s attack on childhood obesity.
With funding from the Rural Health Network, Public Health kicked off its initiative in mid-November.
Already on board are health professionals and folks involved with child welfare – including representatives of local schools.
But Ryan wants to take this project a step farther.
She wants the man-on-the-street approach to a man-on-the-street problem.
“We’re looking for a nice balance,” she explained.
Identified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a nationwide problem, childhood obesity has hit Sullivan County hard.
There are no numbers to track its pace, but Ryan said what’s clear are the side effects of excessive weight in Sullivan’s children.
For the first time, pediatricians are making diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes – previously considered an “adult” disease because it’s often linked to obesity.
Kids are coming up with high cholesterol readings, high blood pressure, even an increased risk for asthma or sleep apnea caused by the strain of excess weight on the body.
And obese kids often become obese adults – with the same health problems.
One CDC study showed 80 percent of overweight 10-15-year-olds were still carrying the weight at 25, another study showed 25 percent of obese adults of any age had a medical history of obesity during childhood.
If the weight problem begins before 8 years of age, the latter study revealed the adult obesity problem was likely to be more severe.
That’s why Sullivan County is attacking this with a full-bore approach.
They’re looking not just for parents and school officials but people who may not have kids but have ideas about how to stop the trend.
Although it’s nationwide, there are aspects of Sullivan County’s childhood obesity problem that are unique, Ryan said.
“We’re rural, there’s not a lot of walking,” she said.
Less exercise often translates into a heavier population.
“A lot of the rural, smaller markets don’t carry fresh fruits and vegetables,” Ryan said.
When they do, the healthy choices on the store shelves are often more expensive in a rural setting, she noted.
That’s where the county’s poverty rate also plays a role.
People who can’t afford to buy higher priced healthy items often opt for the cheapest foods on the shelves – which rarely pack a nutritious punch.
“They taste good, but that’s the problem – the things that taste good often aren’t good for us!” Ryan noted.
The community wellness committee will look at the health of Sullivan County’s children overall – with an emphasis on the ill effects of childhood obesity.
Already holding committee meetings, Ryan said her office needs to know soon who wants to join and what they have to offer.
“Sometimes, we just need ideas,” she said, “or people who can open doors.
“The more ideas, the more that we can do.”
To get involved, call Caryn Matthews at Sullivan County Public Health Services at 292-0100, ext. 1.

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