Incentives to increase the local availability of healthy food and better policing to give kids safe places to walk and play are just some things U.S. communities can do to help children stay at a healthy weight, according to a federal report released Tuesday.
The report, drafted by experts appointed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, notes that almost a third of the nation's children between 2 and 19 are now overweight or obese -- about 23 million kids. Overweight increases a child's odds for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and a myriad of other health troubles.
But communities can turn the child-obesity epidemic around by helping kids and their parents make healthy choices easier. According to the report, communities could offer tax and other incentives to get smaller shops (often the only source of groceries in underserved areas) to offer more fruits and vegetables, or to encourage larger supermarkets to settle in the area. Schools should be situated near shops or restaurants that offer healthy food options, and away from fast-food outlets.
Kids might also be encouraged to walk or bike to school if better policing resulted in safer streets, the report said.
In many neighborhoods right now, finding exercise or healthy food isn't easy, and "too often the easiest thing to do is the least healthy, and that goes for kids," family physician Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chairman of the expert committee that prepared the report and vice president and chief medical officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, told USA Today.
Some of the initiatives outlined in the report will cost money, but Sanchez said that "(benefits from) the relative costs involved far outweigh the cost of doing nothing. Obesity in children leads to some diseases, and the cost of their medical care will go up fairly quickly."