Overweight children and obesity on the rise

Bo Gemmell

Health Commission says trend is a concern

A recent study from the Portage County Obesity Prevention Coalition identified 39 percent of students in the Kent City School District as overweight or obese.

A 2008 report from the Portage County Health Commissioner ranked 40 percent of the county’s children overweight and 22 percent obese.

John Ferlito, Health Commissioner for Kent, said the problem has been on the rise since he started working for the city 35 years ago.

“It’s become a real concern,” Ferlito said. “We’re trying to get the word out and educate people.”

Portage County isn’t alone. A July 2009 study from Trust for America’s Health found that one out of every three children in Ohio is overweight or obese. Ohio ranked 15th in the U.S. in terms of overweight and obese children.

Overweight and obesity are defined by ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally regarded as healthy for a particular height. According to the Centers for Disease Control, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by a body mass index, or BMI. The BMI for adults is a calculation based on height and weight.

The BMI calculation for children also factors in age and gender.

Tackling the problem

The Portage County Health Department received $85,000 from the Healthy Ohio Obesity Prevention Grant. The grant helped create the Portage County Obesity Prevention Coalition, a collaborative effort among the Portage County Health Department, Robinson Memorial Hospital’s Health Education Center, Robinson Health Affiliates, Kent State University and the Portage County Community Health Center.

Kent State’s Nutrition Outreach Program contributes to the Coalition’s public education efforts. Jodie Luidhardt, the program’s coordinator, said undergraduate and graduate students teach healthy eating habits at local schools and give students incentives for eating well.

Kent City Schools are working to provide healthier eating options as well.

“We’re working with the schools to try to get better nutrition education,” Ferlito said. “They’ve taken all the pop and candy bars out of the vending machines.”

Causes of weight gain and obesity

Luidhardt said several factors contribute to unhealthy weight gain in children.

“You can’t just blame the school lunch,” she said.

Luidhardt said the schools follow federal nutrition guidelines, but there may be an issue with the amount of food.

“I see kindergarteners getting the same amount as seventh graders,” she said.

She said fruit and vegetable consumption needs to improve and junk food consumption needs to decrease.

In addition to diet problems, a lack of physical activity results in less calories being burned than consumed.

The Coalition’s June 2009 Obesity Prevention Plan concluded that the current environment in Portage County is “not conducive to supporting healthy habits.” It stated that the majority of residents live in areas without sidewalks, drive long distances to work, have high-calorie diets and access to many fast food restaurants.

Ferlito said the city is trying to expand recreation trails to promote physical activity.

“We’re trying to get people to go out and ride their bikes and walk more,” he said.

Contact Bo Gemmell at [email protected].