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Washington’s Childhood Obesity Epidemic; Challenges, Treatments and Prevention

May 8, 2009

fitnessFitness Centers Around the DC Area Tackle Obesity Just In Time for May, the National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

By Janine Theriault, staff writer

WASHINGTON,(RPRN) 5/08/09 - The old maxim "there is no time like the present” is particularly applicable to the epidemic of childhood obesity this month, as new studies highlight yet more concerns for the health of the nation’s children and we enter into May – otherwise known as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

The topic should be of general interest (and particular concern) to residents of Washington D.C. now, as the area appears to be the epicenter of the modern endemic, and the current month affords even more opportunity, resources, and motivation for tackling the problem of childhood obesity head on.

According to a 2007 study by the Trust for America’s Health, a D.C. nonprofit organization, Washington’s southeast Ward 8 has the highest childhood obesity rate in the country, an ignominious distinction for the nation’s Capitol. But it would be wishful thinking to leave the problem at the boundaries of Wards 7 and 8; although the challenges faced by inner city kids are greater and more varied, obesity knows no bounds. Suburban kids keep putting on the pounds as well.

However, experts say the common roots of the problems are the same for all kids, regardless of their background.

“Kids face more of a challenge today,” says Celia Kibler, a local childhood health and fitness specialist. “Life is more hectic than it was before,” Kibler continues, “Parents have to work more now.” The complicated lifestyle of over-worked parents and multiple households can leave children with a lack of routine in their eating and exercise habits, making tracking their activities much more difficult.

Adding to the inherent disadvantages this generation faces, 92 per cent of elementary schools do not have year-round daily physical education classes, and only about one-third of high school students take daily physical education classes, according to The American Heart Association. Nearly one-third of elementary schools do not schedule recess on a regular basis, with more schools adopting the practice, which Kibler calls “outrageous” given the multitude of damning evidence on the ill-effects of the practice on children’s already beleaguered health.

Luckily, there are an ever-growing number of options for D.C. parents and families concerned with treating or preventing obesity in their children.

Starting from the very top of the Washington chain of command, The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (or the PCPFS) offers up The President’s Challenge from May 1 to July 24, initially a national youth fitness test that now “takes staying active beyond the school gym, and into everyday life”, as stated on the initiative’s presidentschallenge.org website . On the site can be found various challenges to suit all ages and activity levels, including a Kids Challenge that offers awards for reaching goals and links to other local participating groups, for children inspired by the Obama presidency or motivated by achievement.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and former President Bill Clinton’s William J. Clinton Foundation, offers many handy resources for concerned parents, including the Alliance Parent Resource Guide, a downloadable 25-page guide that can help families start the transition to a healthier lifestyle at home.

For a more direct and immediate approach - and for those who prefer to de-emphasize competition and embrace a more inclusive and fun-focused approach to fitness – the locally-founded Funfit program offers a wide variety of activities for kids of all ages and ability levels, including those with special needs. The programs specifically focus on enabling kids of any fitness level to “participate and excel, build self-confidence and self-worth”, says Kibler, co-founder, President, and instructor at Funfit – bringing kids closer to the ultimate goal of over-all health and well-being.

Winners of Comcast’s “Best Of The City 2008” for the Washington D.C. area, the Funfit programs boast Kung Fu, Ballet, Cheerleading and Yoga classes, parental inclusion (come prepared to sweat), circuit strength training specifically tailored to children and exclusive to Funfit (for kids who eschew group participation – complete with Nintendo’s interactive “wii-sports”), and a customized program including nutrition counseling and cooking classes for kids and their parents, providing an excellent base for prevention - as well as the customized program for kids for whom weight may already be an issue. Funfit classes can also be found in various schools & recreation centers throughout Maryland and Virginia, as well as Colorado and New York.

So while the time for action has never been more ripe nor more dire for childhood obesity; but advice, support, and programming exists to help D.C.'s parents and children.

About the author: Janine Theriault is a reporter for RushPRnews and Hollywood Today. She covers the entertainment, arts and Culture beat, and is available for freelance assignments. Write her at JanineT@rushprnews.com
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