Doctors urge Black children to get moving, eat right

Overcoming childhood obesity: doctors urge Black children to get moving, eat right

If more Black children don’t start exercising regularly and eating more nutritional foods, they could be headed for a host of medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.

“It’s a huge problem, but it’s an even larger problem in the African-American community,” says Dr. Kathi Earles, M.D., an assistant professor of the pediatric department of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

“In fact, the highest group of children getting diabetes type 2, which used to be a disease of adults, are all obese, and the majority are African-Americans.”

Furthermore, Blacks only make up 10 percent of the population, but are disproportionately affected by obesity. According to Dr. Earles, roughly 12 percent of White children are obese, compared to about 21 percent of Black children. Additionally, Black girls are the leading group of children who suffer from obesity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

There are many reasons that contribute to obesity, including genetics, cultural influences, low income, and lifestyle factors such as inactivity and poor eating habits.

Since many obese children come from urban, low-income families, Dr. Earles says many of these families usually can’t afford nutritional foods or they don’t have access to them; also, Blacks tend not to view obesity as a big problem.

Nevertheless, professionals say more people need to help tackle this epidemic.

“We’ve got to get involved in schools and encourage a return to recess and a return to physical education classes,” Dr. Earles says, referring to many schools throughout the nation that have cut recess or physical education classes.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes this problem, and has been offering physical education program grants to schools and community organizations to help initiate, expand or improve physical education programs for children kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Detroit Public Schools is one of the many school districts throughout the nation that’s taking part in this effort by developing wellness programs.

“Physical education and physical activity have to be an integral part of a child’s development,” says Eunice Moore, director of the office of health and physical education of the Detroit Public Schools.

“We have a critical issue with obesity. The obesity concern is not just physical activity, it’s nutrition, it’s access to areas where kids can engage in physical activity or physical education or sports or just play.”

Moore says parents, teachers and other role models can help fight obesity by setting a good example.

“Everyone has to participate in a wellness program in order for children to benefit. Once you get adults thinking about wellness, they pass it on to kids who are in front of them,” she adds.

Dr. Earles says, “You’ve got to make it a family issue. It’s no good if you just tell your kids to go outside and ride bikes and you’re not out there riding the bike with them–if you’re not practicing what you preach.”

Earles also suggests families decrease sedentary behaviors, such as limiting the amount of time that children play video games, surf the Internet or watch television.

“The day to get started is today,” she advises. “Make it a family intervention. Create an overall healthy lifestyle. Physical activity should become a routine part of your life–just as breathing.”

COPYRIGHT 2005 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group