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September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, an initiative to help bring attention to the issue of childhood obesity that has grown over the past several decades in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. By recognizing and addressing this problem, we can help steer future generations down a healthier path and away from an increased risk of serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.

How is childhood obesity measured? Body mass index (BMI) is calculated using a child’s weight and height; the result classifies each person into a percentile specific to their age and gender. Children are considered obese if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile. In 2011, Massachusetts school districts began conducting BMI screenings of students as a tool for nurses to help monitor their health. This information is communicated to parents or guardians in hopes of encouraging a healthy lifestyle for their children and reducing the risk of future health problems.

Healthy Eating

Make sure your child eats well-balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables both at home and at school; replace sugary drinks with water or low-fat milk. Childhood obesity is likely to lead to obesity in adulthood, so teaching smart eating habits at a young age is crucial.

  • You can consult this Daily Food Plan online tool to see how much of each food group you or your children need each day.
  • Massachusetts is working to improve nutrition in schools by setting nutrition standards for food and drink provided to students during the school day.

Exercise

Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity or active play each day. In addition to the national Let’s Move! initiative established by First Lady Michelle Obama, Massachusetts is working with schools and communities to help encourage children to be active.

  • The MA Children at Play program provides child care facilities statewide with resources to help improve their nutrition and physical activity policies.

Mass in Motion is a statewide initiative that works with communities, schools, and childcare centers to make it easy for people to eat right and stay active. Through educational programs, state regulations, and grants, the program addresses this public health concern by encouraging healthy decision-making. Thanks to federal funding, the program has grown over the last five years to fund 33 programs in 52 cities and towns across the state, helping to make positive changes for a brighter and healthier future.

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