Tackling childhood obesity in the Houston area

By Carolina Boyd

Childhood obesity is one of the more pressing health concerns facing the Houston and Harris County area. According to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, thirty-four percent of Houston’s children (age 12 and over) are overweight or obese. The problem is often rooted in the lifestyles of families.

Poor food choices and a lack of physical activity are some of the contributors to childhood obesity. However, obesity has also been linked to food deserts, which are areas that lack access to affordable and nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.  Grocery stores are often tough to find in these locations.

“The lack of nutritious food in some neighborhoods often means families are left to feed their children with options that might keep them from going hungry, but do nothing to promote or improve their health,” said Dr. Ann Barnes, Legacy’s chief medical officer. “Without availability to healthy food outlets, families will rely on fast foods and other high calorie options.”

Overweight and obese children are at a higher risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, asthma or joint pain. Kids who regularly eat healthy tend to perform better in school, have better attendance, and show fewer behavioral problems.

The issue of childhood obesity does not stop with diet. In addition to access to healthy food, many children and teens suffer from being too sedentary.

“Children are involved in much less physical activity than 50 years ago.  Today, unless you are in an organized sport, there are fewer opportunities for physical activity at school.  Many of the “play-time” requirements that used to be a standard part of the school day have been whittled away,” said Barnes.

Legacy is working to address the issue of childhood obesity. During pediatric well visits, our team meets with parents to discuss the importance of physical activity and healthy eating, regardless of their child’s weight.

Within our school-based clinics, students learn how to make small changes to improve their weight and health. In addition, Legacy has a partnership with the YMCA’s Kamp K’aana to promote fun activity and healthy eating for kids interested in achieving healthy lifestyle habits and a healthy weight.

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