By Melanie Williams
This generation of children may not outlive its parents. That startling statistic is the result of a UConn study that finds Latino children were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than other children.
According to the Weight Surveillance Research Study by the University of Connecticut Center for Public Health and Health Policy and Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation, “For the first time ever since U.S. Census data have been recorded, children born in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”
The root of this statistic is attributed to obesity. Studies prove that children who are obese and overweight can lead to risk health factors such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and other chronic conditions.
The UConn study focused on approximately 1,300 three- and four -year olds enrolled in Early Learning Centers in Hartford, which led to findings of 17 percent of Hartford children being overweight and 20 percent being obese. In addition, “in all centers, except one – over 30 percent of the children were overweight or obese.”
The results also addressed, “boys were just as likely as girls to be overweight or obese, but Latino children were significantly more likely to be overweight or obese than African American children.”
Statistics show the number of obese/overweight children in kindergarten and third grade are 14.41% White, 18.28% Black, and 18.31% Latino.
Dr. Ann Ferris, director of the UCONN Center for Public Health and Health Policy, is confident this overwhelming statistic can be decreased. She said, “Many people think of this as an impossible task; it’s not. It takes a lot of cooperation from parents and the schools and cities as well.”
Dr. Ferris contributes the higher statistic for the urban community to several reasons such as parents tending to bottle-feed vs. breastfeeding, the quality of the diets that do not include the appropriate amount of fruit and vegetables, and purchasing sugar sweetened beverages since they are lower in cost.
A study conducted by The CT Department of Health, “Overweight and Obesity Among Kindergarten and Third Grade Children in Connecticut,” also attributes “limited availability of affordable healthy food, living in neighborhoods where outdoor physical activity may be dangerous, and less access to convenient and affordable health care.”
In a previous study Dr. Ferris was involved in, “Parental Perceptions of Overweight Children,” some parents defined a chubby baby as cuter and healthier. Dr. Ferris explained while a chubby baby may be healthy, as they grow the child should be getting thinner; children are now getting bigger. The CT Department of Health study indicates, “Findings suggest that obesity intervention and prevention must begin early in life … Children who are already overweight or obese early in life have increased risk of developing early and severe chronic disabilities.”
In joint efforts with UConn and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Dr. Jose Colon-Rivas, director of Hartford’s Department of Families, Children, Youth, and Recreation, stands in agreement to address this problem. “I am optimistic that we can accomplish this by coordinating the resources we have in place.”
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and officials from UConn and 4-H have already tapped into their resources in a statewide project aimed at addressing this issue as they kicked off Connecticut Fitness and Nutrition Clubs in Motion, also referred to as “CT Moves IM.”
This project, for children ages 9 – 14, received a five year $2.5 million Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is launched in Danbury, Windham/Willimantic, Waterbury, and New Haven, with potential to launch in surrounding cities. These cities were based on statistical information on poverty and health rankings.
According to Umeika Taylor, supervisor of the UCONN 4-H program, “The program will provide hands on nutrition and fitness activities for youth and their families; healthy food demonstrations and tastings, family fitness nights, community gardening and ability to grow, harvest and taste the produce as well as how to prepare in recipes. It will also give information to the families on how to improve the health of their child as well as their entire family.”