By 2030 when today's newborns will become adults, 42 percent of Americans will be classified as obese compared to 36 percent today.
So finds a new study from Duke University's prestigious Global Health Institute. Such alarming statistics have had the positive impact of inspiring healthy lifestyle campaigns, such as the 'Let's Move' initiative pioneered by first lady Michelle Obama. But as Duke University's grim prognosis indicates, there's much to do.
Although the health of our young people has to be prioritized, the toll of obesity actually impacts everyone. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] study found that obesity-related medical bills cost the nation $147 billion annually – which equates to $677 per adult each year. Children are especially vulnerable to the epidemic, as obese parents provide the biggest risk factor for children's later obesity as adults, according to Stanford University's School of Medicine.
While the life expectancy of obese adults is shorter, they are also at greater risk for weight-related diseases such as Type II diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
It is our responsibility as adults to ensure today's children make the right choices – choices that will serve them throughout their lives. I can't change our nation's unhealthy lifestyles on my own, but I believe in the philosophy of changing things for the better, one child at a time.
In my work I have tried to do this at the school I founded, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Northeast, where we serve locally sourced, nutritious meals cooked on site from scratch. The meals include ingredients grown in our organic garden, which our students plant and harvest.
Our school, which is located in the Brookland neighborhood, recently started a Wellness Program. We offer after-school fitness programs for parents and children, and three healthy meals a day to students, 74 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. We partner with Whole Foods, which donates and contributes fresh fish, and fruits and vegetables, and nutritious recipes to help families prepare healthy options.
In this effort, we have learned how to get children more interested in staying healthy. Faculty and staff eat with students and the faculty also explains to students how their food is prepared. It helps that our healthy meals taste good, thanks to our in-house chef. We have found this effort to be more productive and less costly than the processed alternative. After overhauling our food service program – reducing sodium and fat content while serving fresh, nutritious, locally-grown foods – we want to help other schools develop the capacity to do so.
The District's city-run public schools – which have complimented our program – are now also beginning to open school gardens, and serve meals that meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture gold level standard. And many other District public charter schools, which educate 41 percent of D.C. students, have moved forward with this type of healthy provision, independent of the city government.
Everyone concerned about the obesity epidemic knows we need to encourage children to adopt healthy habits. Obviously, I am aware that this goal poses certain challenges.
Our inherited desire for sweets and fats, for example, represents a particularly tough obstacle. And I worry about how my students continue to seek out the unhealthy options that surround them not only at home, but also in their community.
Amid the opulence of our nation's capital, some 18,000 District residents live in "food deserts." This term refers to areas in industrialized countries where healthy, affordable food is hard to obtain. Many students who attend our school do not live in our city's most vulnerable neighborhoods, where even grocery stores are few and far between. It is disgraceful that our children should want for such basic necessities.
We do not want the society forecast by the latest trends. Actions that we can take now can have a profound influence on the adult lives of those growing up today. My hope is that the next generation of adults uses the nutritional insights provided by modern science to live healthier, more productive, longer, and rewarding lives. I know that my students need this information. As adults, it is our responsibility to provide this better future to the next generation and position them to pass it on.
Linda Moore is both founder and executive director of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. When she established the school in 1996, she named it in honor of her mother, who was an inspirational first-grade teacher in Arkansas for more than 30 years.