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NICHQ CEO Charles Homer MD, MPH, Quoted on Childhood Obesity in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

April 2009

OBESITY: The primary cause is lack of knowledge

When my son was 3, I took him to my "Apple Lady" seminars on eating healthy. I even wrote a book titled The ABCs of Fruits & Veggies that covers the historical and nutritional elements of many favorite fruits and vegetables.

When one of the attendees asked my son what his favorite fruit was, he simply said, "strawberries," making me very proud. However, when asked about his favorite vegetable, he said without hesitation, "Mexican food." I knew I had more education to do on the home front.

Across the country, leading healthcare professionals, educators, lawmakers and activists are encouraging better food choices. Research shows that five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day can lower the risk of developing one of the biggest killers in America — obesity. And it’s not just adults, but children as well.

Obesity is a health issue that seems preventable.

With the abundance of fast-food restaurants on every corner and their commercials on every TV station, it’s no surprise children eat what they see in front of them. While eating healthy means eating fruits and vegetables, many people are simply not aware.

We are, without a doubt, the only species on the planet that is confused about what to eat. Eating naturally healthy foods does not come naturally to many Americans.

President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized healthy eating by committing $3.2 million to "specialty crops" of fruits and vegetables. The goal is increased vegetable consumption; the sad truth is only one in four of us are eating the recommended five a day.

According to Dr. Charles Homer, CEO of the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, which held its eighth annual Forum for Improving Children’s Healthcare in Grapevine last month, "One of the significant challenges of childhood obesity is getting health insurers to reimburse primary care providers for services. Obesity often begins in childhood and can lead to lifelong medical, social and emotional problems, as well as increased healthcare cost."

A week after the conference was the national Cover the Uninsured Week, in which the Tarrant County Children’s Health Insurance Program Coalition hosted local sessions with the JPS Health Network that helped about 500 families sign up for the state-run program providing children’s health insurance. In February, Obama and Congress reauthorized CHIP to cover more than 4 million children.

Many families are not aware that health insurance is available for about the cost of one office visit. A family of four earning less than $43,000 a year can qualify for CHIP. With many parents unemployed, the CHIP program has taken on an added importance.

Nationally, 9 million American children are uninsured; 100,000 children in Tarrant County are uninsured.

In addition to their lack of insurance, Texas children are among the fattest in the nation.

According to FitFuture of Tarrant County, the rate of overweight/obese Texas high school students is 30 percent — the second highest in the nation. FitFuture also reported the top three Tarrant County ZIP codes where child obesity is 44 to 57 percent: 76104, south of downtown Fort Worth; 76013, in west Arlington; and 76014, in southeast Arlington.

Insuring the health of our country’s children shouldn’t be a complex issue. Breaking this issue into smaller bites, we as adults can serve our children better food choices by feeding one healthy meal at a time, one healthy snack at a time — even if it’s one apple a day. It just might keep obesity away.

Amy McGuire of Burleson is a member of the Star-Telegram’s 2009 Community Columnist Panel. She is proud to share that her 12-year-old son’s favorite vegetable today is asparagus, but he still loves Mexican food.


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