Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 8, 2013

A growing cause for concern

TDH nurse tells Kiwanians childhood obesity rates are soaring

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — A generation raised on fast food and fast computers is showing an increased frequency of childhood obesity.

Texas Department of Public Health Nurse Angela Menchaca told the Athens Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that obesity now affects 17 percent of the nation’s children between the ages of 2 and 19 years old.

That has tripled from a generation ago.

“What they see is what they do,” Menchaca said of the children. “If they are taught a healthy lifestyle, they will probably continue.”

Some of the factors that have contributed to the increase in obesity are excessive snacking, consumption of more high-calorie foods, lack of physical activity and family habits, Menchaca said. The problems start early.

In Henderson County, between 10 and 15 percent of low-income children aged 2 to 4 years are obese. That matches the state obesity percentage for that age group.

Obesity is harmful to youngsters in many ways, Menchaca said. It can lead to psychological effects including low self esteem, depression and bullying. Physical effects can include cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

Menchaca said there are ways to change the habits that have contributed to more overweight children. In the past, children were often taught to always clean their plate at mealtime. Now, nutritionists teach children to stop eating when they’re full.

Another good rule is to curb eating while on the phone, computer or watching television. If the child is going to a party, eating a snack before might help them avoid too much cake and ice cream.

“We as a community should invest our time in our children by starting at a young age to educate and influence positive behaviors,” Menchaca said.

Parents can teach children the four food categories and how to balance a healthy meal, she added. They can also introduce the children to fun exercise activities.