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Child Obesity Awareness Month: A Colorado Update

September 24, 2012

Obesity is top of mind for many these days.

What’s the problem?  The recently released report F as in Fat projected that Colorado’s adult obesity rate, continuing its current trajectory, could reach 44.8 percent by 2030. Across the United States, September is being recognized as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. The childhood obesity rate in America tripled in the past 30 years. Here in Colorado, one of every eight children between the ages of 2 and 14 is obese.

Why does it matter? Focusing on childhood obesity is important to the overall health of both Colorado and the nation. Research cited in F as in Fat outline the health issues, usually associated with adulthood, that impact obese children—elevated cholesterol levels, asthma, sleep-disordered breathing. The report also highlights the economic impact of childhood obesity, resulting in $14.1 billion in health care costs nationally.

What are we doing about it? Across Colorado, families, communities and organizations as well as local and state governments have “work plans” to address childhood obesity. Decreasing the percentage of Colorado’s overweight or obese children is one of the state’s 10 Winnable Battles. Public and private partnerships are creating opportunities for children to increase physical activity both in schools and by developing safe places to walk, bike and play in communities. Communities are promoting healthy eating through improved nutrition standards and local produce in schools. The F as in Fat report makes policy recommendations to impact obesity, such as menu labeling laws and screening for body mass index in schools, and highlights other promising interventions ranging from workplace wellness to child care providers.

What does the research say? Children and teenagers who are obese are more likely to stay obese into adulthood. At this year’s Colorado Health Symposium, Dr. Anthony Iton mentioned the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study when highlighting the physiological impacts of stress. The origins of the ACE study, an ongoing collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente in California, was a program designed to help obese individuals lose weight. The study found exposure to abuse, neglect and other traumatic events in childhood to be associated with adult obesity as well as other obesity-related chronic diseases.

There is broad agreement that many factors determine the ability to make healthy choices and that no single intervention will reverse childhood obesity’s growing trend line. Children may need access to nutritious food to be healthy. Healthy children may also need many types of safety in their environments—not only safe places to play but also emotional and physical safety in their homes, schools and communities. With the second fastest growing rate of childhood obesity in the nation, Colorado may want many options on the table.

What’s next? Colorado’s schools are focused on nutrition—phasing in revised federal nutrition standards that increase fruit and vegetable offerings while limiting calories and fat—as well as activity, with Colorado’s public elementary schools implementing the physical activity expectations authorized by the Legislature in House Bill 11-1069. Through its Obesity Integration Project, Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment is directing prevention resources toward a core set of 12 evidence-based priorities to prevent and reduce obesity. CHI has been talking with experts about how provisions in the Affordable Care Act impact access to obesity treatment and we’ll be releasing those findings later this year. And with the 2013 legislative session just a few months away, there may be more options to consider.

What is in your personal or professional work plan to address childhood obesity?