With rising childhood obesity rates, here are 5 tips to keep your kids healthy over the summer.
Maggie Gilroy / Staff video
LAS CRUCES — Nearly 17 percent of New Mexico children are obese, ranking the state 11th in the nation.
This according to a new study, State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow up Healthy, released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
According to the study, from data collected in a 2017 and 2018 National Survey of Children’s Health, 16.9 percent, or 35,700 children ranging in ages from 10 -17 in New Mexico, are obese.
Nationally, 4.8 million, or 15.3 percent, of children are obese, the study says.
Mississippi had the highest overall youth obesity rate, 25.4 percent, and Utah had the lowest, 8.7 percent.
The study found the obesity rate increases within Hispanic and black communities.
Nationally, the obesity rate among Hispanic children is 19 percent, while the obesity rate among black youth is 22.2 percent. The obesity rate for white children hovers at 11.8 percent, while 7.3 percent of Asian youth are obese.
“These new data show that this challenge touches the lives of far too many children in this country, and that black and Hispanic youth are still at greater risk than their white or Asian peers,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of RWJF.
Nearly half of New Mexico’s 2.1 million residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino — the highest ratio in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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“These differences by race, ethnicity, and geography did not happen by chance. They are a result of discriminatory policies and systems that have been in place for decades,” Besser said.
For youth living in households that make below 400 percent of the federal poverty level, instances of obesity increased by 9.4 percent.
Kids around the world are 10 times more obese than they were 40 years ago.
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Besser said communities have the power to change the outcome of childhood obesity in the United States, to make the nation a more equitable society.
“The more we understand the barriers to good health, the more we can do to address them,” he said.
Changing times and encouraging activity
Central Elementary School physical education coach Tommy Esparza said the population of students he serves isn’t as impacted by the childhood obesity epidemic, but as a whole, the Las Cruces school district is starting to recognize the issue.
“I believe that kids are way less active than they used to be, whether that be because of the advances of technology, which can be a wonderful thing, but many kids nowadays I see they’re more attached to cell phones, iPads and even TV, where as when I was a child or before, we were outside,” he said.
The world has changed.
“You could play outside at the park till dark with your friends and know that you were safe and sound when you come in, but I think the changes in society don’t allow that anymore. We’re fearful as parents that our kids could be somewhere where they could be bothered or put in danger,” he said.
Esparza suggest parent set time aside to be active with their children and instill healthy living habits, such as getting a good night’s sleep and driking water.
He said Central Elementary has put a focus on fitness. In addition to two gym classes per week, students can get involved with intramural sports at lunch time.
“I think at elementary it’s a lot easier to teach because the kids are pretty equal in their abilities,” he said. “If they can learn the basic skills, I think kids will want to participate away from P.E.”
P.E. classes have also changed over time, Esparza said.
“It’s no longer football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, it’s more geared towards getting kids active instantly,” he said. “Our time is limited in class, so when they come it has to be right off the bat, let’s get going.”
Getting kids excited about nutrition
Tucked away in a happy corner at Arrowhead Park Early College High School, sits school nutritionist Leonor Lara and Director of Nutrition Services Edwanda Williams, who work with their team to instill healthy eating habits to students of Las Cruces.
Lara said obesity can be tied to socioeconomic indicators, but that’ not always the case.
“There are many causes to obesity. Some of its socioeconomic status. We’ve seen a connection between obesity and education levels. The level of wealth and occupation levels as well. But things can be tied to genetics, they can be tied to environment, where people live, do they have access to healthy fruits and vegetables,” she said.
LCPS has different program to get all children excited about eating healthy.
One program exposes students to foods they may pass by in the grocery store, such as rambutan, a fruit native to Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Not only do students have the opportunity to try the new foods, they also learn about them and the places they come from.
Students in qualifying schools also have the opportunity to learn how to cook.
“All kids who are eligible get to participate in a monthly educational program where they learn about nutrition and get to try different foods, cooking and really getting to be exposed to other ways of eating,” Lara said.
A recent salsa tasting class was a hit.
“We brought in locally grown produce where kids got to stir in different kinds of peppers with locally grown tomatoes and local onions and they got to mix that up and taste it and compare it to store-bought kind of salsa and really talk about the flavors, and they got to experience what’s here,” she said.
The district’s nutritionists are also focused on programs that offer healthy snacks and encourage movement.
“These programs are really great and they’re evidence-based and that’s what we’ve found that multi-component interventions are best. So obesity isn’t caused by one thing, but many things and we try to address as many of them as possible,” Lara said.
For information about LCPS nutrition programs, visit www.lcps.net/nutrition-services.
For information on the State of Obesity study, visit: www.stateofobesity.org.
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