Our Views: Schools, families must combat childhood obesity

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If you're not convinced that childhood obesity plagues Wisconsin, check a new report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. It found Wisconsin failed to hit benchmarks in physical education time for elementary and middle school students.

With kids returning to classrooms this week, this news should disturb parents and taxpayers in general.

Wisconsin requires grades k-6 to have physical education just three times a week. Middle-school students must have phy ed just once per week for no specified time period. The Cancer Action Network recommends 150 minutes per week for elementary kids and 225 minutes for middle-schoolers. At least 50 percent of that time should be spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity.

“Wisconsin clearly needs to do more to combat childhood obesity, and strengthening the physical education requirements … is a critical component to reaching that goal,” Allison Miller, the network's Wisconsin government relations director, said in a news release.

Being overweight or obese, a lack of physical activity and poor nutrition are responsible for one-third of all cancers, the network said. Obesity is directly linked to breast and colon cancer, two of the most common cancers, and threatens to overtake tobacco as this nation's No. 1 preventable cause of cancer.

 “By helping kids form healthy habits, we can reduce the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths in Wisconsin and cut back the estimated $3.1 billion the state pays annually in obesity-related health care costs,” Miller says.

With the time kids spend at them, schools are natural places to tackle obesity and provide lifetime skills, Miller notes.

Schools, however, can't solve this problem alone. Parents must do more than order fast food or teach their kids how to throw something in a microwave. Too many parents spend too little time and effort cooking proper meals.

A new Janesville program could help whole families pave the way to lifelong physical fitness. St. Mary's Janesville Hospital will lead “Fit Families Rock,” which will focus on losing weight, getting fit and changing behaviors.

For just $25, a family can work as a team instead of making an overweight child feel singled out. Experts from St. Mary's, Dean Clinic, the YMCA of Northern Rock County, the UW Extension Family Living and UW-Whitewater will deliver comprehensive lessons on behavioral change, stress management, nutrition and exercise.

Statistics suggest 28 percent of Wisconsin children are overweight or obese, and Dr. Julie Waraska of Dean Clinic-Janesville East sees morbidly obese kids as young as 6. She says lifestyle is a big issue as kids spend more time playing handheld video and cellphone games than running in backyards with friends.

It's good that this program, which starts Sept. 23 at the downtown YMCA, might not be a one-time deal. The UW Extension will evaluate participants to identify the most effective interventions and improve future offerings.

Absent signing up for this program, area residents should make sure their school districts offer adequate phy ed programs or pressure school boards and lawmakers to boost requirements.

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