York County can help fight childhood obesity

In case you didn’t catch it, September was National Childhood Obesity Awareness month. Nationally, 34 percent of 6- to 11-year-old children are either overweight or obese. That is one out of every three elementary school age children in our country!

So, what about York County? Are you aware of our local childhood overweight and obesity statistics? For third- and fourth-graders in our county’s four public school districts: In York school district, 38 percent and 46 percent are overweight or obese, respectively; Clover school district, 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively; Rock Hill school district, 37 percent and 44 percent; and, Fort Mill school district, 23 percent and 26 percent.

In fact, throughout York County, children and adolescents are increasingly being treated for obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol, liver disease, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.

Teachers, principals, parents, school volunteers and school coaches are in a unique position to influence children and work to reverse these scary facts.

And what should the rest of us in York County be doing as partners in this effort? Here’s a good place to start: When we give a food treat to someone else’s child, we cannot know if the treat fits into the child’s diet that day.

Many young children do not exercise restraint. When treats are presented by a role model, the child thinks it is OK to eat the treat.

Of course, we all want the best for our children including the opportunity to live a healthy, happy life. To this end, we have to limit the amount of candies, sugary beverages, and high-sugar, high-fat foods that they eat.

In the school setting, instead of food treats, teachers can let students act as special helpers, have extra recess, choose the book to read to the class, sit next to the teacher or have a sticker. Teachers can discourage food celebrations in the classroom.

Principals can encourage teachers, parents, and school volunteers to offer alternatives to food treats; similarly, the principal can work with the PTO leaders to offer non-food fundraisers. School volunteers and parents can bring non-food treats into the classroom.

Coaches can encourage a healthy (or no) post-game snack, and water instead of sports drinks.

Eat Smart Move More York County wants to make the healthy choice the easy choice at school and at home. These steps we suggest may not be easy for the adults.

But by working together to promote children’s health in school, at home and with extracurricular activities, we all can make it easier for children to make the healthy choice.

Jessica Cody, a Clover resident, is coalition coach for Eat Smart Move More York County.