L.A. touts wa­ter in obe­sity fight

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Soumya Kar­la­mangla soumya.kar­la­[email protected] @skar­la­manglaw

Obe­sity is a ma­jor health con­cern, but it’s a com­pli­cated prob­lem to ad­dress.

With one in six Cal­i­for­nia kids clas­si­fied as sig­nif­i­cantly over­weight, Los An­ge­les County health of­fi­cials launched a cam­paign this week to en­cour­age fam­i­lies to drink wa­ter in­stead of sug­ary bev­er­ages and curb child­hood obe­sity.

Dr. Paul Si­mon, di­rec­tor of the Di­vi­sion of Chronic Dis­ease and In­jury Preven­tion at the Los An­ge­les County Depart­ment of Public Health, said that though there’s no sin­gle way to re­duce obe­sity rates, ed­u­cat­ing par­ents and coun­ter­ing junk food mar­ket­ing that tar­gets kids are vi­tal.

“We need to change the food en­vi­ron­ment if we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful in re­vers­ing the obe­sity epi­demic,” he said.

A re­cent re­port found that though Cal­i­for­nia’s adult obe­sity rate is fifth-low­est in the na­tion, it has the coun­try’s high­est obe­sity rate among low-in­come chil­dren ages 2 to 4, with nearly 17% who are obese. Ap­prox­i­mately 15% of all Cal­i­for­nia kids are obese, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Si­mon said that so­das should be viewed as a spe­cial treat, but young kids of­ten drink them ev­ery day. That sends a dan­ger­ously large amount of sugar into the body, he said.

“It’s like a tsunami,” he said.

The body strug­gles to me­tab­o­lize that sugar, he said, and the liver in par­tic­u­lar has trou­ble han­dling the over­load, lead­ing to un­healthy fat ac­cu­mu­la­tion in the liver.

“It re­ally puts a strain on your body,” Si­mon said.

The health depart­ment’s cam­paign launched this week, “Wa­ter: The Health­i­est Choice, will place mes­sages at bus shel­ters as well as online and on the ra­dio. In one poster, a young boy sips on a red straw, his face partly cov­ered by the words “WARN­ING: Soda, sports & juice drinks can lead to child­hood obe­sity and type 2 di­a­betes.”

The cam­paign also has signs in Span­ish to tar­get the county’s large Latino pop­u­la­tion, which tends to have higher rates of obe­sity.

Na­tion­ally, more than a third of adults are obese, and more than two-thirds are ei­ther over­weight or obese.

Child­hood obe­sity is de­fined as weigh­ing more than the vast ma­jor­ity of kids of the same height and age. For ex­am­ple, a 10-year-old boy of av­er­age height — about 4.5 feet tall — who weighs 102 pounds would have a body­mass in­dex (a mea­sure of weight and height) higher than 95% of his peers, and there­fore be con­sid­ered obese.

Obe­sity is a ma­jor health con­cern, but it’s a com­pli­cated prob­lem to ad­dress be­cause it usu­ally re­quires lifestyle changes mostly in­volv­ing diet and ex­er­cise.

Si­mon said that in ad­di­tion to the new cam­paign, the depart­ment is work­ing to im­prove the nu­tri­tional qual­ity of food of­fered on cam­puses and get­ting more play time in the school day. Health of­fi­cials are also part­ner­ing with Al­taMed, a non­profit clinic net­work in the county, and Su­pe­rior Gro­cers in East L.A. to place health­ful snack guides in su­per­mar­kets and train store work­ers to make health­ful shop­ping sug­ges­tions to cus­tomers.

Bat­tling obe­sity re­quires that sort of multi-pronged ap­proach, Si­mon said. He cited the anti-smok­ing cam­paign of the 1960s and ’70s, which al­tered to­bacco cul­ture in the United States.

Russ Bynum As­so­ci­ated Press

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