I was warned. Last night I attended my oldest daughter’s middle school orientation. The information card that was sent home had a logo for the Kona Ice truck that would “stop by during our event to help us celebrate” as well as a coupon for free pizza and a drink. Sure enough, the snow cone truck was parked next to the school entrance when we arrived. We went to the gym with its Pepsi logo scoreboard for schedule pickup. Down the hall was the pizza and soda giveaway and in the cafeteria there was a bake sale. Somehow my daughter missed the lollipops that were being doled out but it looked like many other students did not. My youngest daughter was with us and kept saying, “This school needs Better Bites.”
On the way home I told my middle schooler she would need to remember everything I’ve taught her about taking care of herself with healthy food because it didn’t appear she would have much support at her new school. This is a Title I school which means it serves a large percentage of at-risk students in a high poverty area. That very same day, the Centers for Disease Control released a new report on childhood obesity and low-income children.
The obesity rate among preschool-age children from poor families fell in 19 states and United States territories between 2008 and 2011, federal health officials said Tuesday — the first time a major government report has shown a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children after decades of rising rates.
Children from poor families have had some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity. One in eight preschoolers in the United States is obese. Among low-income children, it is one in seven. The rate is much higher for blacks (one in five) and for Hispanics (one in six).
Kentucky was not one of the states with a reduction in childhood obesity. We have dropped the ball in our state and are falling behind. We use the phrase “Thank God for Mississippi” quite often when it comes to health rankings and they have the highest rate of childhood obesity. Georgia has the second highest rate and Kentucky is third. Both Mississippi and Georgia showed reductions in rates of childhood obesity while Kentucky showed no change. At this rate, Mississippians will soon be saying, “Thank God for Kentucky.”
It’s a college and career readiness issue when 25 percent of young adults are ineligible to join the military due to being overweight. It also closes the door to careers in firefighting, law enforcement, and paramedics. Are we willing to let Kentucky’s children miss out on over $1 billion in college scholarship money from the military? Even though Kentucky showed no change in obesity rates, we have the roadmap and can follow the example of those states that are seeing positive results. If middle school orientation is any indication, it looks like we have our work cut out for us.