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Communities Can Help Prevent Childhood Obesity

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September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and in an effort to promote awareness of obesity and its negative effects on children and their families, communities across the country are highlighting ways that parents, schools, local advocates and even businesses can work together to help families make the shift to healthier lifestyles.

Obesity rates have increased for Americans in recent decades due to diets high in salt, sugar and fat, and childhood obesity rates have also increased. In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control one out of every three children are obese or overweight before their fifth birthday. These children are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults, and are at risk for many weight-related chronic illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

For this reason, many communities are taking steps to discourage unhealthy eating habits, promote exercise and help parents and caregivers get better access to locally-grown, nutritious food. In California’s San Joaquin Valley, where obesity rates are among the highest in the country and income levels among the lowest, community advocates have formed the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Project (CCROPP) to train local residents on how to enact small, but important changes – like replacing sugary drinks for children with water, and selling fresh produce to families on local school grounds. CCROPP has also developed a 10-step guide to help parents learn how to convince vendors at farmers’ markets to accept payments from public benefits programs.

In other communities, poor access to recreational areas like parks has sparked parents and caregivers to work with city planners and educators to open up unused spaces for this purpose. El Sereno Arroyo Recreation Area in east Los Angeles is an example of a community effort to build a much-needed playground for children. Funded in part by First 5 Commission, this community-built park includes a space called the “Nature Play Garden” that is specially designed for children under age 5, as well as other connected areas for older family members and adults.

Obesity has many long-term effects for children and adults as they suffer the physical and economic impacts of its related illnesses. By working together to find simple solutions for healthier living and eating, communities can improve health outcomes for children and raise the quality of life for all.

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This Los Angeles preschool teacher helps the children in her class, and their parents, learn the importance of good food and exercise.

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