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Let Summer Motivate You: An Overview of Kids, Nutrition and Exercise in Southeastern Pennsylvania
Friday. July 22, 2005

 






Summer is a time for vacations, outdoor activities, cookouts, and most of all spending time with family and friends.  For most children, summer marks an increase in daily exercise and healthier food choices.  According to the American Heart Association, however, children in the United States are less fit then they were a generation ago.  Similarly, data from the 2003 Youth Risk Factor Surveillance study shows that nationally one-third of children donít engage in physical activity that promotes long-term health.   In addition to the lack of physical activity, children are also facing less positive food choices and have diets high in fat and sugar.

Over the past several years, it has become a national and local public health priority to encourage children to increase their level of physical activity and make more positive food choices to help prevent obesity and certain chronic health conditions.  Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reformed the Food Pyramid to the new and updated My Pyramid food guidance system.  The 2005 My Pyramid places an emphasis on incorporating healthier food choices and physical activity into everyday life.  

The following article explores the characteristics of obesity, nutrition and exercise practices among children (0-17) in Southeastern Pennsylvania using data from PHMC' s 2004 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey.

Obesity, Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Fast Food

∑ In Southeastern Pennsylvania, four in ten children ages 0-17 are at risk for being overweight or obese; this percentage represents 305,367 children.
∑  Latino children (56.0%) had the highest percentage of children ages 0-17 that are at risk for being overweight or obese followed by Other race children (55.2%), and black children (50.0%).  White children had a lower percentage of 39.0% however Asian children has the lowest or 37.4%.
∑  Children ages 5 and younger (58.6%) are more likely to be at risk for being overweight or obese then followed by children ages 13-17 (26.5%) and children ages 6-12 (49.1%).
∑  On average, children (0-17) eat less than 4 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
∑  Both poor (74.7%) and non-poor (74.0%) children consumed the same number of servings (less than 4) of fruits and vegetables a day.
∑  Race of the child did not show any differences among the average number of servings of fruits and vegetables that are consumed daily.  White (73.1%), Black (76.1%), Latino (70.9%), Asian (84.0%), and Other (73.0%) children ages 0-17 reported consuming less than 4 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
∑  About half (49.7%) of children ages (0-17) in the region eat fast food 1-2 times a week.
∑  Boys and adolescents ages 13-17 are more likely to eat fast food 3 or more times a week than compared to girls (16.2% versus 11.3%, respectively)  and children ages 6-12 and 0-5 (10.4%, 8.6% versus 21.6% respectively).

In addition to modifying a childís diet by incorporating healthier food choices, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture children should spend at least 60 minutes on most, if not all, days participating in physical activity.   The benefits children receive from a physically active lifestyle are: healthy bones and muscles, reduced risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases, and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety while promoting psychological well-being.  

Physical Activity and TV Viewing

∑  In Southeastern Pennsylvania, almost five in ten (47.6%) children are not getting the recommended amount (as mentioned above) of daily physical activity. 
∑  White children (59.5%) were more likely to participate in 30 minutes a day of physical activity per week than Black (54.9%), Latino (51.8%), and Asian (46.1%) children.
∑  As the age of children increases participation in daily physical activity decreases. 
∑  Children ages 5 and younger (65.5%) are more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity each day than children ages 6-12 (63.2%) and adolescents ages 13-17 (46.1%).
∑  Six in ten (61.9%) children report participating in organized sports in the past year.
∑  Non-poor (67.6%) children were more likely to have played organized sports in the past year than poor (45.4%) children.
∑  The percentage of children who spent 3 or more hours a day watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer is largely the same for each race (approximately 46.0%), with a slightly higher percentage for Black children (54.6%) and a slightly lower percentage for White children (42.5%).
∑  As the age of children increases the number of hours spent watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer increases as well. 39.8% of children five and younger, 45.0% of children ages 6-12, and 51.2% of children 13-17 spent 3 or more hours each day watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer.

The above data shows that a sizable number of children in SEPA are overweight or obese and are not exercising as much as is recommended.  With some basic modifications to everyday food choices and creative ways to spend time in physical activity, children and families can develop healthy habits and reduce their risk of disease and obesity.  Summer is a great time to start healthy behaviors by getting out and enjoying the warm weather and picking up some fruits and vegetables at a local farm or even in your own back yard.  If you would like additional information on the My Pyramid food guidance system visit The United States Department of Agriculture at www.usda.gov.  For more information about the above findings, contact Michelle Alvarez at malvarez@phmc.org

    

 

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