Florida Lawmakers Look at Problem of Childhood Obesity

The American Heart Association was at the capitol Thursday lobbying lawmakers to take action.

Sharon Lafayette is a health-conscious mom, so she was surprised when her pediatrician said her youngest daughter needed to lose weight. Now she's working to help her little girl make smart choices.

“It's like, you got to eat healthy and you have to exercise. So she roller-blades, which she likes, and she rides her bike and she likes to jump-rope with her older sister,” Lafayette explains.

More than one out of four middle-school students is overweight or at risk of being overweight in Florida, and a recent survey found nearly half of all middle school students watch two or more hours of TV a day. The American Heart Association wants lawmakers to help.

“We need to see that every student ultimately is achieving 30 minutes of daily physical activity,” says Lisa Whidden of the American Heart Association.

At least one bill at the capitol would require Phys Ed in school, or proof that your child is active in sports outside of school.

But even the Heart Association stopped short of pushing for mandatory Phys Wd.

What they're hoping for is a voluntary effort to provide more nutritious school lunches, opportunities for exercise, and education on healthy eating. Florida's Secretary of Health says it comes down to personal responsibility.

“There's a limit to what government can do to address what is essentially an epidemic related to the way we live,” adds Florida Department of Health’s John Agwunobi.

And unless we make some healthy changes, obesity will kill more than half a million Americans next year alone.

The American Heart Association is supporting a bill to create a Governor's Council for a Fit Florida. It would work with school districts to promote physical activity and healthy eating.

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Obesity in Children

  • In 1999, 13-percent of children aged 6 to 11 years and 14-percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years in the United States were overweight.

  • Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur with increased frequency in overweight children and adolescents compared to children with a healthy weight.

  • Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents. Overweight and obesity are closely linked to type 2 diabetes.

  • Overweight adolescents have a 70-percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. This increases to 80-percent if one or more parent is overweight or obese.

  • Overweight or obese adults are at risk for a number of health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.

  • The most immediate consequence of being overweight or obese as perceived by the children themselves is social discrimination. This is associated with poor self-esteem and depression.

Cause of Obesity

  • Obesity in children and adolescents is generally caused by lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle both playing important roles in determining a child's weight.

  • Our society has become very sedentary. Television, computer and video games contribute to children's inactive lifestyles.

  • Forty-three-percent of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day.

  • Children, especially girls, become less active as they move through adolescence.


  • Doctors and other health care professionals are the best people to determine whether your child or adolescent's weight is healthy, and they can help rule out rare medical problems as the cause of unhealthy weight.

  • A Body Mass Index (BMI) can be calculated from measurements of height and weight. Health professionals often use a BMI "growth chart" to help them assess whether a child or adolescent is overweight.

  • A physician will also consider your child or adolescent's age and growth patterns to determine whether his or her weight is healthy.

General Suggestions

  • Let your child know he or she is loved and appreciated whatever his or her weight. An overweight child probably knows better than anyone else that he or she has a weight problem.

  • Overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement from their parents.

  • Focus on your child's health and positive qualities, not your child's weight.

  • Try not to make your child feel different if he or she is overweight but focus on gradually changing your family's physical activity and eating habits.

  • Be a good role model for your child. If your child sees you enjoying healthy foods and physical activity, he or she is more likely to do the same now and for the rest of his or her life.

Physical Activity Suggestions

  • Be physically active. It is recommended that Americans accumulate at least 30 minutes (adults) or 60 minutes (children) of moderate physical activity most days of the week. Even greater amounts of physical activity may be necessary for the prevention of weight gain, for weight loss, or for sustaining weight loss.

  • Plan family activities that provide everyone with exercise and enjoyment.

  • Provide a safe environment for your children and their friends to play actively; encourage swimming, biking, skating, ball sports, and other fun activities.

  • Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing video games. Limit TV time to less than two hours a day.

Source: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/fact_adolescents.htm (The Surgeon General's Call to Action Web site)