Battling childhood obesity is about the numbers
Marty Ritchie leads his Head Start of Washington County students through a fun song teaching them how to make healthy food choices. (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer)
But parents are busy. Fast food is cheap. And technology helps keep children sedentary.
As a result, one out of three children in the United States is overweight or obese, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
They are at risk for developing serious health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes, that will carry over into adulthood.
That's why Becki Weir believes it's important to promote healthy lifestyle choices as early as possible.
A program called "5-2-1-0 Everyday!" is helping her do the job.
"5-2-1-0" is a community-based initiative intended to increase physical activity, decrease screen time and improve eating habits for children and youth, said Weir, community health outreach coordinator for Meritus Medical Center. Weir's department helps to set up the local program.
Through education and activities, the program targets children older than age 2, as well as families.
Weir said "5-2-1-0" refers to five or more fruits and vegetables each day; two hours or less recreational screen time; one hour or more of physical activity; and zero sugary drinks and more water and low-fat milk.
The "5-2-1-0" message is nationally-endorsed and promoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"The goal of the program," Weir said, "is to provide several simple lifestyle messages that families can follow to help kids be healthier. It endorses attacking childhood obesity in small ways that can create lasting long-term results."
Weir said the program got off the ground locally this spring, when three health registered nurses from the medical center were working on their master's degrees in nursing at Towson University.
"They worked with several preschool and after-school sites, including Head Start, Girls Inc., YMCA after-school programs, Boys and Girls Clubs and Memorial Recreation," she said.
The sites were provided with tool kits, which included lesson plans, program recommendations and handouts for children and families. In addition to the various sites, the nurses also taught classes for the Maryland Department of Education licensed childcare providers.
The local campaign also has borrowed resources from an initiative in Maine called "Let's Go!," which also battles childhood obesity, Weir said.
According to Weir, how long participants stay in the program is an individual matter.
"Every school or organization can decide how long they would like to implement it and in how much detail," she said.
Over the past year, Weir said Meritus has been using community events to get the word out about the program.
"Information was distributed at the Washington County Health Department expo this spring. And we're currently collaborating with the Nutrition and Physical Activity Partnership (NAPA) of Washington County and United Way to plan events and activities to spread the "5-2-1-0" message," she said.