By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
While the Alliance for a Healthier Generation celebrates 10 years of fighting childhood obesity by focusing on nutrition, the nationwide organization is also stepping things up for the next decade with big plans to get more kids moving.
The Alliance, which turned 10 in May, was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation in response to a growing obesity epidemic. Over the past decade, obesity rate increases have begun to stabilize, and for the first time, obesity rates have begun to drop in at least one age group, with declines in children between the ages of 2 and 5.
Now, the Alliance plans to use the model of working through community networks, government, nonprofits and corporations to make an impact on children’s exercise, recess and good old-fashioned playtime. As part of the group’s 10-year anniversary, the Alliance plans to launch a campaign for kids to add at least 10 minutes of physical activity a day.
Physical education in schools is not given the priority it needs and children’s lifestyles after school have become far too sedentary, said Alliance CEO Dr. Howell Wechsler.
“It took us a couple of generations to get into this mess, and it will take a couple of generations to get out of this,” Wechsler said. “We should be encouraged by the progress to date, but we should be impatient because we love our children. Our concern isn’t about children’s weight, it’s about children’s health.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In children ages 6 to 11, it went from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. It jumped from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent between the ages of 12 to 19 during that period.
In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, which can lead to early heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
The Alliance said its work over the last decade impacts more than 20 million children, with a focus on low-income and minority populations who are at increased risk for obesity and other diseases. More than 28,000 schools are enrolled in the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program, more than 6,000 community sites will have access to the Alliance’s Healthy Out-of-School Time Program. And, over 2.8 million children have access to healthcare benefits for the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity through a network of 56,000 healthcare providers.
“In a relatively short period of time the Alliance for a Healthier Generation has become a critical leader in the fight against childhood obesity, helping millions of kids eat more nutritious foods at school and build positive habits very early,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said.
“The importance of the Alliance’s work cannot be understated,” she said. “We know that when children are given opportunities to lead healthier, happier lives they are more likely to thrive – and to become healthy, happy adults.”
The Alliance made a big splash in September when it hammered out an agreement with The Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association to reduce calories Americans consume in these beverages by 20 percent by 2025.
The companies agreed to use marketing to inform consumers about healthier options, such as smaller portions, water and lower-calorie drinks. The companies said they would provide calorie counts, as well as focus on communities where there has been less interest in and/or access to lower-calorie drinks. Their progress will be tracked by an independent, third-party evaluator, in conjunction with the Alliance.