One in five youth at risk: should lifestyles change? |

One in five youth at risk: should lifestyles change?

Cyd Sharkey is shown on her Banner Mountain-area deck with her daughters Taylor 11, (left), and Devin, 14. Sharkey is losing weight to be a better role model for the girls.
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In Pennsylvania, parents receive confidential letters encouraging them to change the lifestyle of their overweight and under-exercised elementary school children. Letters to parents of high schoolers are next.

Retailers such as Gap, Target, Lands’ End, Lane Bryant, and Limited Too enjoy a booming market selling plus-sized youthful clothes. Experts notice an alarming increase in Type 2 diabetes – a “middle-age” disease – among young people.

What’s going on here? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the percentage of overweight children and adolescents has doubled since 1970. An increasing number of educators and medical professionals are alarmed at the rising incidence of obesity in young persons.

One local educator, Carol Judd, principal of Bell Hill School, is worried about the level of fitness.

“I’ve watched an isolated problem with one or two children expand over the last few years,” she says, “until obesity and lack of fitness are becoming a real issue for children.”

Her observations are echoed by doctors such as Dr. Rene Kronland, a family practitioner in Grass Valley who treats children and adolescents.

At the national level, Dr. Kenneth Jones, chief of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California at San Diego, and Dr. Silva Arslanian, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, are sounding the alarm.

Jones reports an escalating trend with no reversal in sight.

“Obesity has become so common in the United States that one in five children is now considered obese,” he says. “Kids are spending more time than ever watching television, surfing the Internet, or playing video games. They’re also spending less time playing sports or engaging in other forms of exercise.”

Consumption of attractive fast food, high in calories, especially fat, also plays a role.

Even more worrisome is the dramatic increase in Type 2 diabetes. The potential for developing long-term complications are devastating. Stroke, eye disease including blindness, and kidney, heart and nerve disease are the risks. Amputation and early death are the ultimate consequences in extreme cases.

If change is to occur, parents must become role models, exercising and eating healthfully themselves, and getting their own weight under control. They must minimize TV and computer time while organizing an active lifestyle. Reducing fatty, sugar-loaded, high-calorie snacks while serving healthier fare is essential. Kronland suggests parents begin by making small but systematic changes.

Schools can provide healthier menus, remove vending machines and provide even more opportunities for exercise, including special events that emphasize fitness.

Role models can bring the torch into the classroom and talk about the importance of being physically fit. To schedule an appearance, call 265-4039 or e-mail

To take concrete steps, Judd, in partnership with the Sierra Nevada Wellness Center, is coordinating the third annual Nevada County Kids’ Classic Fun Run for children ages 3-14 on May 4 at Nevada Union High School. (See “You’re Invited” below for details.) Through this event, she wants to underscore the joy in being fit.

Why not have a kids’ challenge? One school can challenge another, or a school can challenge a group, such as the Rotary Club. We have the technology to organize community challenges. Do we have the collective will to it happen? E-mail challenges to

Carole Carson is a fitness and nutrition advocate from Nevada City. E-mail her at

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