Alabama’s children, data show, have spent years suffering from the American epidemic of childhood obesity. In large part, the reasons are the same for them as they are for adults: bad food, sedentary lifestyles and, for those in or near poverty, limited healthy options.
Obese children of meager means and saddled with unhealthy lifestyles often become obese adults who suffer from a wide range of weight-related ailments. The cycle is deadly. This epidemic is among Alabama’s most pressing issues involving public health.
We want to be optimistic that Alabama’s obesity epidemic — across all age groups — will eventually end.
That’s why it’s wise to view new data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease and Control as data to cheer — mildly.
Alabama’s percentage of obesity among low-income children aged 2 to 4 didn’t increase between 2010 and 2011, the CDC said. (The rate remained at 14.1 percent; the overall number slightly increased.) Call it spinning the numbers: The state’s percentage went up in 2009, went down in 2010 and this time remained the same. We’ll call it a victory, for now.
Next time, that may not be the case.
There’s no reason to rehash the encyclopedic lists of causes, effects and byproducts of obesity. Instead, count this as yet another call for those who control what young Alabamians eat — parents and schools, mostly — to make this an overriding, daily concern as we approach the beginning of another school year.
To that end, a thumbs-up is due the Calhoun County Board of Education, whose members are considering making radical changes to lunchrooms at several of its schools. By redesigning lunchrooms to resemble modern restaurants, board members may be able to persuade more Calhoun County students to eat at their schools, most of which are offering healthier lunchtime choices.
Last month, Jeanie Clough of Milwaukee-based Interior Systems showed the county board example of redesigned lunchrooms, which could feature schools’ colors and mascots. “Most of us in this room are over the age of 50,” Clough said. “And when we make decisions on spaces used by 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds, it’s important they’re involved in the process.”
Sounds quirky, but if it’s fiscally feasible, and if it works, then it’s an idea worth doing.
Eighteen states saw their obesity rates for low-income children drop between 2010 and 2011. Alabama wasn’t one of them. This generational change of adjusted lifestyles may take longer than we’d prefer. It’s likely to be a slow, incremental slog. But if it helps Alabama’s children, it’s worth it.