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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

Obesity epidemic hits too close to home for Cache family

By Lexie Jost

March 09, 2006 | Michael Johansen is a typical second grader at a local elementary school. He likes to play video games, wrestle with his older brother, and believes that all girls have cooties. He also likes to run and play soccer, but there is something prohibiting him from doing so for longer that a few minutes at a time. No, it's not his overprotective mother or his less than state-of-the-art sneakers. It's his weight. At age 7, Michael weighs 148 pounds.

Like Michael, nine million other American kids are obese. Approximately 15 percent of all children in our country's classrooms can be classified as obese or overweight. Childhood obesity rates are growing at an alarming speed, enough to be labeled an epidemic. In a study conducted by the Utah Department of Health, Utah children are following the national trend of unhealthy weights. More than 25 percent of Utah elementary students are overweight. The study also reported that almost 12 percent of Utah children are obese.

Society contributes the causes of childhood obesity to many different things. Increased fast-food consumption, distractions like television, video games, and computers are among the leading factors, according to a recent study by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of nutrition. The director of this program, William Dietz, claims that television has changed national food consumption patterns.

"Children will be more likely to eat foods that are advertised, which often happen to be higher in calories and lower in nutrients," said Dietz.

Some critics blame the schools. More and more elementary and middle schools have candy and soda machines around every corner, making it easier for kids like Michael to become unhealthy. Schools around the country are now rethinking their deals with companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald's, which pay schools and sponsor sports fields in exchange for the right to distribute products to students. A decline in physical activities is also a factor. Physical education is offered as a side note in most Utah schools, including Michael's. In fact, only 8 percent of elementary schools, 6 percent of middle schools, and 5 percent of high schools provide daily physical education.

Still others blame the parents, whether it be for a lack of breast-feeding, which has been linked to protect against obesity, or a poor example later in childhood. In a Rand Corporation study released in September 2003, parental roles were stressed to exert a positive influence on their children by promoting healthy foods and an active lifestyle. Many Utah parents are so busy with their careers that when they return home from work, the only thing they want to do is relax, leading to a sedentary lifestyle, thus providing a poor example for children.

Some children spend all of their time watching television, playing video games, and surfing the Internet. Michael, for example, spends an estimated 20-30 hours in front of the television each week. None of these activities are bad, but in excess, or when combined with a nutrient-lacking diet, the results can be devastating.

Blame for this epidemic is also placed upon the shoulders of advertising executives. Experts say that specific advertisements persuade kids to eat certain high-calorie foods. The average child views more than 40,000 television commercials each year and more than half of those promote high-calorie foods and beverages. By the time those kids reach the age of 14, 52 percent of the boys and 32 percent of the girls consume three or more eight-ounce sodas per day.

Obesity is dangerous is many ways, the most notable being its serious health complications. Thousands of American youth arrive in hospitals each year because of obesity related health problems. Hypertension, elevated cholesterol levels, sleep apnea, and type II diabetes are among the most common. Pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes specialist Dr. Ravi Shankar said that there has been a serious increase in the incidence of type II diabetes in youth.

"A decade ago, we rarely diagnosed type II diabetes in children and teens. Now, we are seeing an epidemic increase. The jump is phenomenal," said Shankar.

Obese children are also likely to develop other conditions, as well.

"Arthritis, chronic pain and back problems are some of the other health complications with obesity because the extra weight causes more strain on the joints and bones," said Michael's mother, Sherrie Johansen.

Childhood obesity is clearly a multifaceted problem. There are several solutions that can be implemented to help fight this epidemic. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following actions: encourage healthy eating patterns with nutritious snacks, change drink ingestion from soda to water or low-fat milk or other low-calorie drinks, limit television and computer time to two hours per day, routinely promote physical activity, and eliminate sweetened drinks in public schools.

According to a Calorie Control Council survey, 48 million -- 25 percent -- of the U.S. adult population are currently on a diet. A good way for obese children to combat their size is to combine healthy eating with exercise. About 30 minutes of moderate exercise most of the week is recommended to maintain good health and 60 minutes is recommended to attain weight loss.

"As Utahans, we have no excuse. We can take advantage of the great area and weather to become active and use all of the outdoor facilities available," said Johansen.

Several institutions are already taking steps to a healthier Utah. The Gold Medal School Initiative focuses on improving policies and environments to support good nutrition and physical activity and to create partnerships that will promote heart healthy behavior. The state of Utah has organized programs like Healthy Utah to educate citizens about keeping a healthy body, increase cooperation among national organizations, and mobilize health care providers to combat obesity through education and treatment. To find out more, visit .

Locally, programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education and Family Nutrition Programs , services of Utah State University Extension, exist to assist the health and well-being of low-income Utahns by providing them access to healthy, nutritious diets for the least money.

Michael, with the aid of his mother, will begin taking steps to improve his quality of life, including the development of a more nutritious diet and a regular exercise plan allowing him to play his favorite sport, soccer. But the fight for a healthy lifestyle will not be won overnight. If we all do our part to solve this growing epidemic, maybe kids like Michael will be able to walk up the stairs without losing their breath. Maybe they will be able to run, jump rope, or play soccer at recess. Maybe they will be able to enjoy being a kid.


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