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How to eliminate Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Earlier this week I received a reminder that this September marks the second National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (the inaugural awareness month was in 2010). This is depressing news. With 12.5 million children between the ages of 2 and 19 in this country considered obese (or one third of our children either obese or overweight) we have let this problem grow to the point that we need to name an awareness month in its honor. I wish it wasn't so.

In a press release from the White House, the presidential proclamation on the issue outlined that the rate of childhood obesity has tripled since the '70s and that "without major changes, a third of children born in the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes during their lifetimes." If not type 2 diabetes, they will face other obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.

The disconnect for me is that obesity can be reversed. I understand that there are health conditions and issues that may lead someone to be obese, and that make it very difficult for someone to lose weight. But, when you have an epidemic of this proportion, the special cases do not apply to everyone.

Furthermore, it is one thing for an adult to be overweight, but how does a 2-year-old child become obese without calling into question the responsibility of parents? If economics and the cost of food is the problem, then how we do let this epidemic happen without calling into question the price of cheap food?

We have the choice to be healthy

We do have choices in what we eat and what we feed our children. A friend of mine recently went to visit relatives in Tennessee. When she went to go to the grocery store, her sister-in-law said, "Oh, you'll have a hard time finding healthy stuff here. It's not like Boulder."

But much to my friend's surprise, she found almost everything she typically eats at home at the grocery store in Tennessee. Her sister-in-law rather had chosen not to see it, not to look for it and not to eat healthy. Or, to give her sister-in-law the benefit of the doubt, she doesn't understand what it means to eat healthy and therefore doesn't know what to look for at the grocery store.

In fact, in "The Future of Wellness" research NewHope360 conducted earlier this year, we discovered that people want to eat healthy and live a healthier lifestyle, but they don't know how. The only places they have to learn about "healthier" eating are diet or fitness centers. Although both options have helped many people, they are also loaded with guilt. They don't necessarily set people on a long-term trajectory of healthier eating habits.

This summer I heard Dr. Michael Roizen speak, author of the RealAge books and physician at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. He made the case that we don't respond to facts, but we do respond to emotions. We have to change our environment and our culture of overeating to truly bring about change.

Retailers and schools can help steer healthy eating

So how do we help people and parents better understand nutrition and healthy choices that will keep them off the obesity path? I would like to see grocery stores take the wellness center stance and provide more information about healthy choices in the retail setting. One way to do this is by creating more end caps that offer suggestions for healthy meals. I think that manufacturers could do a better job of partnering in the retail setting to give consumers better meal options.

The government release went on to outline the First Lady's "Let's Move!" initiative, which is a step in the right direction. This program, combined with the healthy school lunch initiatives happening across the country, give me hope that we could possibly reverse the obesity trajectory for our children. 

Let's move on this issue with the hope to eliminate Childhood Obesity Awareness month within the next 5 to 10 years. A challenge, yes, but a necessity for the health of our children who are the future of our country.

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