Because of obesity, this generation of children may be the first in US history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. The CDC reports that teen obesity rates are growing exponentially, having tripled in the past 20 years. We also know that 70% of obese children become obese adults, and that 75% of our healthcare dollars are spent on chronic disease management – diseases that are 80% preventable with lifestyle modifications. Efforts to curb healthcare costs are unlikely to succeed without addressing America’s obesity epidemic.
So who is addressing the obesity crisis now? One shining example is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). They recognized the impact of obesity on their club members and looked for ways to increase physical activity levels, encourage healthy eating, and repair self esteem in America’s underprivileged youth. After consulting with the Department of Health and Human Services (and obtaining funding from the Coca-Cola company), the BGCA created a multi-faceted initiative, called Triple Play, to combat overweight and obesity. The results are very encouraging.
After 2 years, an analysis of over 2,250 club members suggests that 90% of youth enrolled in the program met the daily, federal physical activity recommendations while a significant number improved their nutritional status, choosing to eat significantly more fruits and vegetables. Perhaps most interestingly, the participants also scored higher on tests of “self-mastery” which are correlated with self esteem and social skills. Overall, girls were impacted more strongly by the program than boys, though the reason for this is unclear.
I had the honor of moderating a panel of experts who discussed the impact of Triple Play on BGCA members. In attendance were Olympic gold medalists Shawn Johnson, Dominique Dawes, and Dr. Tenley Albright in addition to SVP of BGCA, Judith Pickens, former Club kid and Youth of the Year, Stacey Walker, and Chris Spain from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. It was heartening to see that there are programs that can bend the obesity curve – because success in this area of disease prevention has been hard to come by.
I hope that healthcare reformers will carefully consider the impact of obesity-driven chronic disease, and look to program success stories like Triple Play as a means to affect long-term improvements of America’s health. Our kids’ lives and the future productivity of our country are dependent upon the implementation of prevention programs that work. Cheers to BGCA for leading the charge against childhood obesity!