News 8 Now is launching a major initiative to battle childhood obesity, focusing on “fit kids”. The Monroe County Health Department estimates 16% of kids ages 2 to 17 are obese. The statistic is slightly above the national average of 15%.
According to the County Health Department estimates 24% of overweight or obese children live in the City of Rochester while 12% live in the suburbs. However, the University of Rochester Medical Center is currently working with the County to re-evaluate new statistics; experts estimate the number of overweight or obese children in the suburbs is rising drastically.
Dr. Rahul Sengupta's pediatric practice in Pittsford sees about 12,000 children, many of which are overweight or obese.
“We're running into multiple times per day,” says Dr. Sengupta, “but if you have an obesity issue in this town, there really weren't too many ways to refer our patients for answers.“
The problem prompted Dr. Sengupta and his colleague, Dr. Cathy Hahn, to start the Rochester "School of Fitness". The school is an extension of the medical group, it offers exercise training and nutrition help for kids as well as their parents.
“We have mothers and fathers that come in with their kids and they're very motivated for change, they want to see their kids be healthy,” says Dr. Sengupta.
“When you look at the obesity spectrum on a whole, the trends have shown that across racial groups, across ethnic groups, across economic groups, obesity has increased dramatically,” says Dr. Stephen Cook, a nationally-known childhood obesity expert at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.
We asked Dr. Cook what the top five reasons were behind Monroe County's obesity problem.
“The top three or five is just too short a list cause it comes down to the simple thing of calorie imbalance,” says Dr. Cook.
The first obesity factor is food or more specifically, what is added to food. Ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils or "transfats" are added to foods to improve their texture, taste and as preservatives. The additives not only crowd more calories into the food we eat, we also eat larger portions.
“The quality of the food has more calorie density to it and the quantity of it is more because the cost to make food in this country is still relatively cheap to make food in this country,” says Dr. Cook.
The next obesity factor: our activity levels or rather, lack thereof.
“We've decreased the amount of physical activity that we have and even the physical activity that we do have-both adults and children-is of a lower quality,” says Dr. Cook.
Children also attend physical education classes in school less than what was required years ago. Many of the gym classes today incorporate class-setting learning about health, reducing the physical activity level of each class. Media is also a major obesity influence on children.
“Cable TV and electronic entertainment--video games, DVDs, game stations--have led kids to be inside more and not play outside,” says Dr. Cook.
Finally, you've heard the old phrase "do as I say, don't do as I do", Dr. Cook says parents and guardians have the single biggest influence on their child's weight.
“We know that parents will demonstrate a lot of health behaviors good or bad. Having two overweight parents is really a big risk factor for a child, under the age of 10 probably, for being overweight as an adult.”
Over the next four months, sports director John Kucko and medical reporter Elizabeth Harness will be teaming up to offer you ways, both in nutrition and through sports and activities, to help curb childhood obesity problems. Among them:
- Educate you about nutrition facts surrounding the food you eat every day.
- Give you ways to not only eat healthy but learn how to cut calories in a cost-effective way.
- Important information you should know about obesity and its effect on your child’s health as he or she gets older.
- Tell you about local opportunity for sports and activities in the City of Rochester and Monroe County suburbs
- Educate you about how your school is working to curb obesity among students
- Teach you easy ways you can get your kids to exercise.