HOLDREGE — Childhood obesity is a problem parents and communities can’t afford to ignore, says an author and doctor.
“There are millions of kids heading towards cardiovascular disaster that are simply just not recognized,” said Dr. Walt Larimore, co-author of “Super Sized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child from the Obesity Threat.”
Larimore spoke to community members in Lexington and Holdrege Wednesday. His appearances were sponsored by Two Rivers Health Department, Lexington Community Foundation and Phelps Memorial Health Center Foundation.
YMCA of the Prairie also had a weeklong healthy fitness challenge for school kids taken from strategies in Larimore’s book.
Nebraska ranks 21st in teenage obesity in the nation, Larimore said. Since 1990, 10 percent to 14 percent of Nebraskans have fallen into the obese category. By 2008, that number climbed to 25 percent to 29 percent.
“It is an epidemic that is not just affecting the country in general, but Nebraska specifically,” Larimore said.
The average teenage boy drinks 68 gallons of soda in a year, and the average teenage girl drinks 48 gallons per year, Larimore said. The phosphoric acid in soda can affect young women’s bone mass.
“We have women entering their 20s with lower bone masses than have ever been recorded before,” Larimore said. “So, the impact on them as far as fractures later in life may be huge.”
He said the No Child Left Behind Act forced schools and educators to reduce the amount of physical education and recess time offered in schools in favor of more academic minutes. Larimore cited studies that showed physical education and recess time increased not only report card scores, but also performance on standardized tests, especially for boys.
“Instead of the No Child Left Behind, I suggest a new law for the Unicameral Legislature in the state of Nebraska, and that is, ‘No child left on his or her fat behind,’” Larimore said, which brought a laugh from the crowd of more than 150.
Larimore said parents are reluctant to think of their kids as overweight or obese and instead refer to them as Cornhusker strong.
“It’s become so prevalent, so common, that a skinny child looks sick,” he said.
To combat childhood obesity, families must work together to change their habits.
“Family traditions are a huge part of it,” Larimore said. “This is not genetics. It’s because of the decisions that families make.”
On his Web site, Larimore provides three free tools that can help families take charge of their health: a family assessment tool, an eight-week family fitness plan and a 16-week family fitness plan, all available at drwalt.com.
“Our goal is just to help families help kids,” he said.
The fitness plan is not focused on weight loss, but on making healthier choices such as eating meals at home without TV distractions, cutting children’s screen time to less than four hours a day, reducing red meat or processed meat intake, and adding fruits and vegetables to diets.
If a family successfully completes the first eight weeks of the family fitness plan, they can then implement a 16-week plan that builds on the first plan’s success.
“The childhood obesity epidemic is here,” Larimore said. “It’s going to reduce the length of life of our kids and the quality of their life. And we, that love and care for kids, can make a difference. We just have to choose to.”