OVERWEIGHT Oklahoma children

Wednesday, September 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A state task force reported this week that as many as one in five Oklahoma kids between 6 and 17 is way too fat. The News on Six's Glenda Silvey takes a look at some of the causes and solutions.

An Oklahoma task force on children's health says childhood obesity has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Their report says one key reason is lack of physical activity in school and after. The other is diet. Tulsa Pediatrician Dr Gwen Gibson agrees. "I can give you a few examples of seeing a 50 pound three year old a few days ago at the clinic; an eleven year old that weighed over 200 pounds." Dr Gibson considers food intake the main contributor to obesity in children, who often consume a high fat fast food diet at school and at home. She says though schools try to offer nutritious options, fast food and vending machines tempt most students. "They can go to the vending machine and choose pop and cookies from the machine, so I think the change in our cafeterias has made a difference as well." So has a sedentary lifestyle. "Children are not outside playing, whereas they're inside watching TV or in front of the computer screen."

Some on the task force are calling for mandatory physical education classes. Union Public Schools requires it through 8th grade, though not daily, and many high school students drop it to make time for electives such as organized sports and marching band. Kirt Hartzler with Union Public Schools, "I think one of the things we all grapple with as educators is trying to find the time in the day to offer those kinds of courses." Hartzler urges parents whose children aren't in PE to encourage some other physical activity. Dr Gibson believes all kids would benefit from an hour of calorie burning in PE class daily. "It may also encourage children to develop an active lifestyle as they get older." But medical experts say Oklahoma parents need to teach healthier habits when their children are young.

Dr Gibson says parents are the key to preventing childhood obesity by offering nutritious meals and encouraging physical activity. She says too many people don't realize that if untreated, obesity can lead to other problems including Type II Diabetes, sleep apnea, and high cholesterol.