According to the latest figures, Southwest Virginia has a childhood obesity rate of 28 percent, the highest in the state. With that in mind, the Twin County Healthy Communities Action Team, the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association and TurnKey KB & Associates sponsored a “Tackling Childhood Obesity” workshop at the Crossroads Institute on June 15.
Kim Brown, director of TurnKey KB & Associates, who wrote the grant being funded by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, said an important part of the workshop is teaching parents, nurses, educators, and school administrators how to talk about obesity.
“We definitely need to jump start the conversation in a positive way. We do not need to point the finger or blame,” said Brown, noting that the term “unhealthy weight” had replaced the more psychologically damaging “obese.”
Although overeating of unhealthy foods is a key factor in the obesity epidemic, it is not the only problem facing those working to reverse children’s bad eating habits.
“Unfortunately, our kids are not only overweight, but undernourished,” said Laura Buxenbaum, the nutrition affairs account manager with the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, which received the grant. “We have to put a lot of resources into education.”
Buxenbaum said there are four vital nutrients that children are missing from their diet – fiber, calcium, potassium and Vitamin D.
“Dairy foods are the primary source of three of those ingredients,” she added.
The key speaker at the workshop was Joan Horbiak, a registered dietician and communications trainer, who said a concerted effort is the key to reversing the obesity epidemic that is threatening our country’s children.
“I believe with every bone in my body that we can change this. It’s not rocket science, it’s working together,” said Hobiak. “The alarm bells are going off. We’ve had to reclassify adult on-set diabetes because so many eight year olds have it.”
Hobiak noted that “schools have been good about eliminating junk food” and “fast food restaurants are making changes” to promote healthier eating habits. “The whole environment has to change. If it’s not accessible, kids won’t eat it.”
Those changes, however, only work if parents are invested, said Hobiak. “Parents have to be role models. Kid follows your actions, not your words. They model what you do.”
She added that parents in their zeal to help their children sometimes go too far.
“Parents, at times, have been over restrictive. Focus on what kids can eat, rather than what is bad for them. Sometimes, parents cut out just about everything. You don’t want your kid coming to school hungry.”
When discussing a weight problem with a child it is important it is handled in such a manner so as not to “humiliate” the child, said Hobiak. “We have to change the way we discuss childhood obesity. We need to use the term unhealthy weight instead of obese.”
In addition to proper eating, exercise is a key element if children are going to attain a healthy weight.
“Kids need to fuel up on fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low-fat milk and dairy products, and play at least 60 minutes a day,” said Hobiak.
Also speaking at the workshop was third-generation dairy farmer Zach Myers of Jonesville, N.C. “We’re very happy to be involved in this program. We (dairy farmers) are very invested in the education process. Hopefully, we’ll have healthier kids and sell more dairy products.”
Hobiak said the anti-obesity problem has received a major boost from First Lady Michelle Obama, who has led the way in raising the awareness of the childhood obesity.
“What Michelle Obama has done is great, but it’s going to take a nation of everyone joining hands to close the gap and help kids get back their futures.”