Hope in the struggle against childhood obesity comes from many people, places

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

East Midvale Elementary School was the Gold Medal School of the month in December. Principal Sally Sansom has joined teachers and faculty in devising ways for students to have fun embracing healthy lifestyles. Students measure how far they run. They then track their progress on a bulletin board and gauge how many times they can walk to Disneyland and back. Also, twice a week the school provides a new fruit and vegetable for the kids to try. Some of the more exotic samplings have been star fruit, Asian pear, blood oranges, baby kiwis and pomegranates. These children are not only more confident and excited about these healthy options, they are learning skills Sansom hopes they can use throughout their lives.

"The need is there and being healthy and fit and learning these skills will hopefully transfer as they get older," she said.

The fight against childhood obesity — often linked to type II diabetes and heart disease — has become more visible in recent years thanks to programs like Michelle Obama's Let's Move! program, and similar efforts made by school districts, state health departments, legislators and concerned parents.

Leon Hammond, executive director for the Utah Partnership for Healthy Weight, said his organization works closely with the Utah Department of Health to promote healthy lifestyles in Utah. One program offered by the Department of Health is centered on physical activity, nutrition and obesity. Its focus is on changes individuals can make in their the environments and lives to reduce obesity.

"We at Utah Partnership for Healthy Weight encourage people to do whatever they're comfortable doing along two lines — improving nutritional intake and becoming more physically active."

Utah State Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, has sponsored bills in the past to tackle childhood obesity, provide healthier options in vending machines and increase physical activity and is an advocate for combating obesity. She said while schools can help in making healthier alternatives more available and providing more opportunities for physical activity, families make the biggest difference in effecting cultural change. She has implemented this in her own family by challenging her grandchildren to not drink soda for a few months, the reward at the end of the month being a vacation.

"It really does have to start at home," Jones said. "There are things that everyone can do on a daily basis that can help and model for our children and grandchildren."

While Utah has a great track record for having low alcohol and tobacco consumption, Jones said Utahns do eat a lot of sweets. Parents can help their children by learning about the dangers of obesity and talking to their families about those dangers, then seek out alternative choices.

"It's not a judgment," Jones said. "It's something that we need to understand is a huge problem."

EMAIL: wevans@desnews.com

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