MADISON, Wis. - Just how serious is the problem of childhood obesity? This generation of children may be the first that won't live as long as their parents, according a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February of 2010.
The medical journal found that due to obesity and other cardiovascular risk factors, this generation of children can expect to live two to five year less than their parents and grandparents.
Dr. Kari Hegeman, a pediatrician at Dean Clinic in Madison, called the article "shocking and a serious wake-up call."
"It's an effect that's equal to all cancers combined," Hegeman said, adding that the number of children who are considered obese has tripled in the last 30 years.
"Kids that are obese are less likely to go to college and less likely to be successful," she said. "Pediatric obesity puts kids at risk for asthma, diabetes, sleep apnea and depression."
Dr. Hegman also said pediatric obesity is more common in Native-American, African-American and Hispanic-American children.
"The most at-risk are African-American girls and Hispanic boys," Hegeman said.
Everyone has a role to play in fighting this epidemic. Kids spend the majority of their day in school so several local districts are stepping up with unique and creative programs to help kids lead healthier more active lives. At Randall Elementary School in Madison, the 5th grade students take a yoga class twice a week.
"Mostly they're having fun. They like challenging poses and balancing poses. They want to see what their bodies can do," said instructor Robin Schnitzler Nathan.
At Sandburg Elementary School in Madison, Joanna Whitlock applied for and won a federal grant to start a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program. Three times a week, the kids get a healthy snack grown from local farms.
"The kids have tried jicama, watermelon, bananas, broccoli, peas and pineapple," Whitrock said, adding that she got the idea for the snack program when she had a bowl of raspberries on her desk and a boy asked her what they were and if he could try one.
Whitrock hopes the snack program exposes kids to healthy foods they might not try otherwise.
"Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a good snack. They don't have to be yucky vegetables we had as kids. They can be fresh, crisp and enjoyable," she said.
The hope is the experience will set a foundation for healthy eating when students go to the grocery store or a restaurant.
Sandburg Elementary is just one of 166 schools statewide getting a grant for the USDA's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Schools qualify based on the number of students eating free or reduced-price meals, and get about $50 per child to provide those snacks.