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How can we prevent weight and eating problems in children?

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The crisis continues to grow. The National Center for Health Statistics finds the number of overweight children in the U.S. has risen to 15 percent for ages 6 to 19, up from just 5 percent in the 1960s. For African American, Hispanic, and American Indian youth, the figures are even higher.At the same time the Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveals alarming rates of hazardous weight loss practices. Eating disorders affect at least 10 percent of high school students, and nutrition monitoring reveals that a majority of teen girls consume less than two-thirds of their nutrient needs. One fourth are seriously undernourished or malnourished. Weight issues are an obsessive concern for American children of all ages, of every racial and ethnic heritage. Clearly it is a national health crisis when harmful attempts at weight loss are common in the third grade. It is a crisis when more than two-thirds of high school girls are dieting, one in five take diet pills, and both girls and boys are using laxatives, diuretics, fasting and vomiting in desperate attempts to lose weight.

Sound prevention programs will address these interrelated problems, and recognize that overweight, dysfunctional eating, the widespread undernutrition of teenage girls, hazardous weight loss, eating disorders and size prejudice are not separate issues. All are part of the same problem. All are increasing in prevalence and intensity. All are distorted by the current drive for thinness. Understanding this helps us realize we can’t rush in to “fix” one problem without affecting others.

Until recently there were literally no models for moving ahead with safe and effective childhood obesity prevention. Now several states have comprehensive programs in place, and the Society for Nutrition Education has developed guidelines to assist planning groups. On these pages you’ll find the SNE guidelines in full, a review of Iowa and Michigan programs, and other materials on  the prevention of obesity and eating problems and promoting healthy weight in children.

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