America is facing a crisis of pandemic proportions, some researchers argue, as childhood and adult obesity rates continues to rise.
According to a study by the Trust for America's Health, a non-profit, non-partisan organization which is dedicated to the prevention of diseases, adult obesity rose in 31 states with 22 states experiencing an increase for the second year in a row. New York finished at 40th.
No state saw a decrease in its rates.
Meanwhile, the report found Washington D.C. had the highest rate - 22.8 percent - of childhood obesity in children ages 10 to 17. Unlike the adult obesity category, New York had the 19th-highest percentage of childhood obesity.
''There has been a breakthrough in terms of drawing attention to the obesity epidemic. Now we need a breakthrough in terms of policies and results,'' said Dr. Jeff Levi, executive director of the TFAH. ''Poor nutrition and physical inactivity are robbing America of our health and productivity.''
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's Web site, www.aacap.org, obesity is easy to recognize but it can prove difficult to treat. The condition is also responsible for more than 300,000 deaths and costs society around $100 billion each year.
''A few extra pounds does not suggest obesity. However, they may indicate a tendency to gain weight easily and a need for changes in diet and exercise,'' the organization said. ''Generally, a child is not considered obese until the weight is at least 10 percent higher than what is recommended for the height and body type.''
Some health risks which accompany obesity, according to the AACAP, include the increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing problems and trouble sleeping.
In schools, the study found only 17 states required school lunches to meet higher standards than the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires; 22 states of nutritional standards for items sold in vending machines, school stores or bake sales; while every state has physical education standards, many are not enforced; and 16 states send a students body mass index or fitness status home to parents.
Sunny Linden, Jamestown Public Schools physical education, health and family consumer science coordinator, said legislation passed in April 2007 required students' BMI (body mass index) to be sent confidentially to school officials.
''It's never before been we had to track it,'' she said. ''We've been doing that all along, but now it's being required.''
Locally, many school districts have made efforts to provide more opportunities for both students and staff to take part in more physical activity. Several schools have implemented wellness policies, offer healthier choices to students at lunch and regulate what and when items are sold from vending machines. Districts often cooperate with dieticians, nutritionist, school nurses and other health personnel when creating wellness policies.
''In the last couple of years with the wellness policies that each school has had to develop, the schools are starting to make some very positive steps towards encouraging health and wellness with our kids,'' said Kerry Mihalko, director of food services at WCA Hospital and a registered dietician. ''We're making some strides with the schools that I have helped with their wellness.''
Ms. Linden said her district - from money provided from the Carol M. White Physical Education Grant- was able to purchase computer software to track student information, heart rate monitors and programs to use in gym class. She said school officials hope students will learn what it takes to stay healthy as adults.
''Essentially were doing lots of things,'' Ms. Linden said. ''For one thing, we're gathering data. We are teaching children about the components of fitness and making sure that they understand ... We are teaching them about target heart rate and using heart rate monitors.''
Ms. Linden said students experience a variety of diverse activities, which, she hopes, will provide encouragement and a level of comfort when it comes to exercising or going to a gym.
''Our point is to try make sure kids are comfortable and that our students can get on the equipment, they know essentially how things work. We give them an opportunity to experience all of those types of things .... so they really feel comfortable in physical activity,'' she said. ''We're hoping to give them just as many and varied experiences as we can so that they love activity.''
Ms. Mihalko said she has seen the number of obese children increase as more children are participating in less activity and eating more high calorie, high fat food.
''We've been seeing the trend towards more overweight kids over the last few years,'' she said. ''We do see kids that have a BMI in excess of the 95th percentile, which is considered overweight, throughout all of their childhood years.''
In order to reduce body weight, Ms. Mihalko suggested limiting ''screen time,'' or the amount of time spent in front of a television or computer and encouraged more activity, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
''It doesn't have to be an exercise class or a marathon,'' she said. ''It just has to be active.''
Other tips according to the AACAP include changing eating habits, limiting snacking, controlling portions and consuming less calories and starting a weight management program.
Ms. Mihalko said WCA is beginning a program in February designed to help children make healthy choices. Called ''Way to go kids,'' children ages 9 to 14 can attend the eight-week program, which will feature information on nutrition, healthy cooking and increasing physical activity.
''We're really focusing on how to be healthy for life,'' Ms. Mihalko said.
It was the combination of seeing children develop adult disease due to obesity and working with area school systems which prompted Ms. Mihalko to start the program. She said she hopes the program becomes an annual event, since she doesn't see the obesity problem ending any time soon.
''We don't really see an end to this (program),'' Ms. Mihalko said. ''We think there's a great need for it.''
Registration is still open for the WCA program, with a maximum of 10 students in the class. Instructors include a registered dietician, nurse and recreation therapist. There are also three parent only classes and four follow-up meetings with a dietician for a year after the program ends. Call 664-8436 for more information.