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Obesity down for American teens, except in low-income families

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 8:30 a.m. MST

The recession makes it harder to create changes, says Amy Bentley, associate professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "There is less money to buy healthy food, less time for a parent to be home to prepare healthier food, less money to participate in school sports," she says, noting that there is much more to the problem than just a culture of healthy eating. "Stress and strain propel people to eat comfort food," she says. "Poor people are stressed a lot."

Playtime solutions

One alternative to costly sports teams and clubs is just good, old-fashioned play, through access to recreational centers, parks and playgrounds. But it can be difficult for low-income families to have access to parks, green space and safe places to play.

Most volunteer after-school programs focus on homework, not physical activity, but that may start to change. The NFL 60 Minutes of Play program offers volunteer opportunities and ideas for after-school programs that feature jump rope relays and freeze tag. Metos notes that the last decade has seen an uptick in sports team enrollment, which could be due to obesity concerns, but could be influenced by other factors like looking good for college admissions. “Think not in terms of sports, but having fun with your friends,” Metos says.

Another solution, Chrastil says, might be policy. She wonders if teens got the message about sugar soda or if it just wasn’t available in schools anymore, replaced with Gatorade, water and juice. “Is that educational success, or policy success?” she asks, noting that her kindergartner only has physical education once a week at his school. “If physical activity is an issue, and we know policy changes can work, then they should be applied to exercise.”

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