News / Health

New York City Battles Childhood Obesity

Peter Fedynsky

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States says every third adult and nearly every fifth child in America is obese.  But health officials in New York are touting an aggressive initiative that has resulted in a significant drop in the city's childhood obesity rates.

Alex Schimke is a trim and fit New York sixth grader.  He says he likes fruits, particularly strawberries.  But like most children, he admits a taste for candy, cakes and other sweets.

"Are you going to eat the cake or the apple for health?  Obviously, you're going to eat the apple, but you want the cake," said Schimke.

Such indisputable logic of children is not lost on New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

"Children have a natural preference for sweets, more so than adults.  On the other hand, as adults, we choose what to put in front of our children," said Farley.

Farley says New York has increased the amount of physical activity in local schools, and also improved the healthfulness of food in cafeterias.

"They do have apples.  Oh, yes! And they have a salad bar," noted Schimke.

Alex also noticed that school vending machines now offer vitamin water instead of sugary high-calorie beverages.  

Farley notes that obesity rates in America began rising about 30 years ago, as many people traded physical labor on farms and factories for sedentary office jobs.

"Physical activity has all but disappeared out of most people's lives, unless they make it a separate task," Farley added.  "At the same time, and even more importantly, food has increasingly become cheap, ready to eat, available everywhere, and so people have adopted habits to snack constantly."

Farley says the New York childhood obesity rate is still at 20 percent.  But New York's decline goes against a rising national trend.  And the health commissioner is heartened that the rate has fallen at all for the first time in decades - 10 percent among five and six year olds - which gives him reason to believe some youngsters will adopt lifelong habits of healthy eating.

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