Reducing Childhood Obesity for Youth From Under-Resourced Communities

One in three children in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Obesity affects quality of life and makes people at risk for many health issues throughout their lives. There are two factors that affect obesity: nutrition and physical activity. Nutrition is generally not a child's choice; the caregivers buy food so children typically can only try to influence buying decisions. Physical activity is every child's choice; young people can be active in numerous ways without there being an associated cost. Opportunities to be involved in organized sport may vary due to income and accessibility, but every child has the opportunity to be active. More barriers exist for youth from under-resourced communities which makes them have a higher risk of obesity than other kids. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and this is the perfect opportunity to teach youth how to live and eat in a healthier way. Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA believes that by increasing a young person's physical activity through sport, we can reduce the likelihood that the child will become or remain obese. Laureus USA supports programs that encourage youth to be healthier through nutrition education and physical literacy.

Children living in low-income households are more likely to be obese or overweight, according to a study conducted by the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System. They deduced that low-income families often have less access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity due to various factors. For example, they often don't have stores that provide healthy, affordable food; and their neighborhood recreation areas may be unsafe or have limited open spaces for their children to play. There are great programs that are combating obesity through physical activity despite these factors. These include Wee Can Fight Obesity in Alabama, which provides an electronic, animated exercise program incorporated in PE classes. Let's Go!, a nationally recognized childhood obesity prevention program, provides schools the necessary tools to support physical activity and healthy eating. While there is a nationwide movement to end obesity, better support systems and structures need to be implemented to allow families in under-resourced communities to make healthier decisions which will lead to decreased obesity rates.

The sport for development sector is widening the reach of intentionally designed, organized physical activity programs for youth so that there are more high-quality options in under-resourced communities. Some of these programs incorporate nutrition into their curriculum so kids can take this new knowledge home to their caregivers to recommend healthy, balanced options.

There are many examples of programs around the country that are doing a great job of combining physical activity and nutrition curricula. One of the organizations supported by Laureus USA, I Challenge Myself, provides physical activity programs and nutrition classes to improve learning, fitness, and self-worth amongst NYC public high school students. The University of California School of Medicine developed the Just for Kids! health education program to inform youth about making changes in their diet, exercise habits, and lifestyle to increase physical activity and nutrition knowledge. Partnership for a Healthier America is a nonprofit that works with private sector partners to increase "access to healthier, affordable meals; creating safer places for children to play; [and] offer more opportunities for kids to get up and move." Since its launch, PHA reached over 9 million children throughout the US through making 15,523 schools become active schools. Through PHA, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! initiative to include healthier food options in our schools, encourage kids to become more active, and ensure families have access to healthy, affordable food. In February 2015 at the fourth annual Building a Healthier Future Summit, Mercedes-Benz USA announced they will be partnering with PHA and implementing change through Laureus USA.

Organizations like those mentioned above are spearheading the movement toward ending obesity. Obesity is a complex problem, and sport for development organizations can't be responsible for our future generations' health alone. More organizations and individuals need to commit to providing resources to ensure there is a systematic and sustainable decline of obesity rates for youth from under-resourced communities. Sport should be used as a key tactic to address the childhood obesity problem, and when complemented with nutrition education programs, youth can learn how to eat and live in a healthier way.