CHF battles the bulge among youngsters | AspenTimes.com

CHF battles the bulge among youngsters

John Colson

Children's Health Foundation photo

Obesity might not be an issue people in Aspen and the rest of western Colorado worry about. But it should be, at least according to a recent report from the Children’s Health Foundation.The idea that everyone in Western Colorado is fit and healthy thanks to active lifestyles, and therefore don’t need special nutrition programs or reminders to eat well and exercise regularly, is just not true.According to the CHF study, more than 21 percent of school-age children on the Western Slope are in danger of becoming overweight or, worse, obese.Only in Mesa County does obesity threaten fewer youngsters – in this case, 15 percent of school-age kids.On a state map illustrating results of the CHF study, titled “The State of Nutrition and Physical Activity in Colorado Schools,” Mesa County is blue, along with four other blue counties in eastern Colorado. Five counties around the Denver metro area are shaded yellow, which means only 11 percent of kids are overweight, the study maintains.

Every other county on the Western Slope, including Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield, fall into the red category, meaning more than one in five children could become obese through overeating and lack of exercise, the CHF reports.The report also notes that nationwide, between the years 1974 and 2000, obesity and “overweight prevalence” tripled for kids 6-12 years old, and doubled for kids 12-19 years old.The U.S. surgeon general’s office has tapped schools as “key settings for the implementation of public health strategies to decrease the prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity,” according to the report.To attack the problem, CHF last week completed the first phase in an ongoing effort to get children in this region to get fit and lose the fat. And the organization’s director said the fight has only just begun; she and her organization are embarking on a campaign to work with schools, state legislatures, national educators and nutrition initiatives.”We hope to influence people on the state and national level,” said Mardell Burkholder, whose office is in Aspen.

To begin, CHF has been working with the Garfield (Rifle, Silt and New Castle) and Roaring Fork (Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt) school districts on a study of what kids eat while they’re in school, and what they would like to eat.Last week, middle schoolers in Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs took part in a “Taste-A-Thon,” to which CHF representatives brought samples of healthier snack options.Students then were asked to rank the ones they liked. The districts’ food service personnel now can develop a list of healthy replacements for snacks deemed to have too much fat, sugar or other things considered bad for growing youngsters.”It was a lot of fun,” Burkholder said, noting that the event was co-sponsored by the Schuss Foundation, which offers grants for community development, health care and performing arts, as well as by corporate product suppliers such as Smoothie King, General Mills, Nature Valley, Frito Lay, Fiji Water and Everybody’s Nuts. Burkholder said the school districts involved have pledged to work on eliminating fatty and sugary foods from the school’s menus and vending machines.The primary goal, she said, is to cut in half the number of unhealthy snacks and “a la carte” items in school cafeterias. Burkholder currently is working with the Garfield and Roaring Fork districts; she hopes to begin working with Aspen schools soon, although an Aspen Times survey last year showed that the Aspen schools are in much better shape than neighboring districts when it comes to the foods offered to students.

Once that goal is met, she and the CHF board hope to work with local and state officials to set standards for the school-lunch programs, which are controlled and funded mainly by the federal government.Burkholder noted that the CHF study was prompted in part by a federal mandate that all school districts have a “wellness policy” in effect by this year, and state legislatures have the authority to set the kind of standards her group is seeking.CHF has an annual budget of roughly $400,000, all of which is raised through appeals to individual contributors and corporate foundations. For copies of the study summary booklet, or to learn more about CHF, e-mail info@childrenshealthfoundation.netJohn Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.comThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.