Virginia's First Lady Hosts Childhood Obesity Conference
This week Virginia’s First Lady Maureen McDonnell hosted the Commonwealth’s first Weight of the State Conference on childhood obesity prevention. Craig Carper reports.
Speaking to the group of several hundred public school employees, health department officials, youth advocacy groups and other state representatives, Mrs. McDonnell gave some startling statistics.
McDonnell: In Virginia right now, more than 260,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese. That is tragic and it’s condemning a generation of young people to an unhealthy path for a lifetime.
The First Lady said many of our health problems stem from our culture of convenience.
McDonnell: Our busy lives put a premium on time and more and more people are not involved in the preparation of food. We just grab and go. We are living in a society of microwaves, fast food and pre-cooked meals, that frankly are full of preservatives and calories and hold very little nutritional value.
National obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years. And more than 60 percent of adults in Virginia are overweight or obese.
Last year the Virginia General Assembly voted to give the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth responsibility for childhood obesity prevention efforts. The foundation has developed pilot programs to encourage physical activity in inner city areas, as well as supplemental classroom-based prevention programs. And they recently completed a survey of 2,500 Virginia children and teens, on childhood obesity prevalence in the commonwealth, focusing on contributing factors and regional statistics.
The study found that over two-thirds of the Virginia youth believe they are a healthy weight, though they correctly classified their weight only 65 percent of the time. Obese children were more likely to misclassify their weight. Girls and young women were less likely than boys to say they were overweight or obese.
Virginia’s State Health Commissioner, Dr. Karen Remley said much of the country’s weight problem can be traced to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and much of that is due to “screen time.”
Remley: Screen time is any time that you spend in front of the TV, the computer, video games, surfing the internet or using a handheld gaming device. On an average school day, almost one half of young people watch two or more hours of TV and one quarter of young people watch three or more hours of TV. On an average school day 33 percent of young people play two or more hours of video games and 16 percent play more than three hours a da.
Dr. Remley says parents need to start paying attention to their children’s eating and exercise habits much earlier.
Remley: There’s a lot of good research that shows that babies at two years of age, if they’re overweight or obese, they’ve hit that tipping point and if you’reoverweight, if you’re that chubby toddler, you’re much, much more likely to remain obese.
After addressing the conference, Mrs. McDonnell and Dr. Remley met with Mark Lilly, who operates a mobile farmers market called Farm to Families in a renovated school bus, which he takes into urban neighborhoods around Richmond. Lilly says he tries to target “food deserts” or blighted areas that don’t have access to fresh food.
Lilly: Unfortunately a lot of kids are being raised on processed foods so they don’t even know what real food is. So you really have to educate them first.
Lilly said when starting his business he found it very important to be food-stamp or EBT-certified to maximize access to his wide selection of products.
Lilly: I have grass-fed meats, I have pastured eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, fresh produce, collards, kale, salad greens. It’s all seasonal. You can get anything you want on that bus and to prove it, my wife and I are going to live off the bus for a year, proving to people that they can eat seasonal and local without having to leave their neighborhood really.
To learn more about Lilly’s business, you can go to farmtofamilyonline.com.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Richmond.