How local goverments can help kids be healthier

stockphotopro_74990DXA_young_girl_in_kitThe Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that 16.3 percent of children between the ages of two and 19 are obese, putting them at risk for health problems that could reduce their life expectancy and quality of life. And while parents and caregivers play the biggest role in shaping children’s wellness habits, their efforts are often undermined by local problems – like unhealthful school lunches or poorly kept playgrounds – that don’t support those habits.

So today the IOM’s Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments released its recommendations for ways that local governments can support healthy lifestyles for children rather than impeding them.

The report includes more than 50 suggestions covering everything from improving access to and consumption of healthful, safe and affordable food while reducing access to unhealthful foods; increasing awareness about the importance of healthful eating and encouraging physical activity.

They identified these 12 steps as being the “most promising”:

  • Create incentives to attract food retailers to underserved neighborhoods.
  • Require chain restaurants to post caloric information on their menus.
  • Mandate nutritional standards in government-run or regulated after-school programs, recreation centers, parks and child care facilities.
  • Adopt building codes to require access to fresh drinking water.
  • Implement taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and other foods with minimal nutritional value.
  • Develop media campaigns to promote consistent messages about healthful eating.
  • Maintain comfortable walking environments around schools, parks and other destinations where children can be physically active.
  • Adopt community policing strategies and work with schools in higher-crime neighborhoods to increase the number of children biking and walking to school.
  • Build and maintain safe playgrounds near residential areas, and adopt community policing strategies to improve safety in higher-crime neighborhoods.
  • Collaborate with school districts to allow neighborhood use of fields, playgrounds and recreation centers when schools are closed.
  • Mandate minimum play space, physical equipment, and duration of play in pre-school, after-school and child-care programs.

Read the IOM’s complete list of recommendations, and see what David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Optimal Weight for Life Program, has to say about restaurant calorie counting and how stimulus funds could be used to improve the health of the country’s children.

What challenges do you face in getting healthful food or exercise for your child or yourself?

Is it the individual’s responsibility to keep him/herself healthy, regardless of their environment, or is it impossible to do the right thing when you’re surrounded by so many bad influences?