State's childhood obesity rates too serious to ignore May 2011

State's childhood obesity rates too serious to ignore

<b>Beth Curley</b>
Beth Curley

Tennessee Voices

About a year ago, I got a wake-up call. Out of the Vanderbilt Forum on Pediatric Obesity — an event that representatives from both NPT and Sesame Street attended — came news that the generation of children born today are likely to have shorter life spans than their parents.

As a new grandmother, I was appalled. The news sent me on a mission to learn all I could about children's health. Much of what I discovered, especially here in Tennessee, gave me great pause.

Too many babies born at risk

According to Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge, director of Family and Infant Youth Health at the Metro Public Health Department, "You will do better if you are born in almost any other state in the country than in Tennessee."

In an average week in Tennessee, 361 babies are born pre-term or with low birth weight and 14 die before reaching their first birthday, for an average of nine deaths per 1,000 live births in the first year. This is almost three times above the national benchmark.

The problem is not an income, education, racial or ethnic issue, though. Tennessee may rank 50th among states when considering the gap in infant mortality based on mother's education, but the rate of almost five deaths per 1,000 live births, seen among infants born to even the most educated mothers, exceeds the national benchmark.

Recent measurements indicate that 41 percent of all Tennessee children are overweight or at risk for being overweight. We have the fourth-highest rate of overweight youths 10-17 in the nation.

In the general health of our children, we rank 48th. Income only tells half the story. While Tennessee ranks 24th among states when looking at the 7 percent gap in children's general health by family income, there is an almost equally sizable gap between the general health of children in higher-income families in Tennessee and the national benchmark.

Obesity crisis must be met

It's not a child's fault if she or he is overweight, or in poor general health as a result of improper nutrition, lack of inoculations or inadequate exercise.

The situation has become too dire to lay blame. We must begin the work now to fix it. As an informational and educational resource available, free, to everyone in Tennessee, dedicated to the children we serve, we at NPT feel a particular responsibility toward addressing this crisis.

This year, with major support from the Healthways Foundation, NPT is embarking on an ambitious three-year, seven-part documentary series and outreach initiative to assess the state of children's health in Tennessee, and what can be done to turn the tide. NPT Reports: Children's Health Crisis will address the most pressing issues facing children in the state today, including poor or non-existent prenatal care, childhood obesity, concerns about vaccines, mental health, dental health, specialty care and adolescent sexuality. The first documentary, an overview of the situation, premieres on NPT and on Feb. 25.

We'll be partnering with many community organizations, including Alignment Nashville and the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt to help us spread this information as far and as widely as possible; informing the community of the problems facing children's health in Tennessee and engaging them in developing solutions.

We are continually humbled and empowered by support NPT receives in the community, and believe it the result of a mutual respect. You've always counted on us for quality programming for your children.

Today, we're proud to be counted on for important information about their health.

But we can't do it alone, and need your help. Together we can help reverse the rising trends of childhood health problems in Tennessee. Stay tuned, and stay involved.


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