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By Traci Moore                                     Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2011     
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Five years ago, it was estimated that 25% or 1,225 of 4,900 children in San Mateo County were overweight. This percentage was thought to be even higher for Pacific Islander, Latino, African American and Filipino children.

Now, a newly released study called, "A Patchwork of Progress: Changes in Overweight and Obesity Among California 5th, 7th and 9th Graders, 2005-2010," shows the percentage of overweight and obese children in San Mateo County has dropped 5.6% since 2005. The study was prepared by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA).

Local officials credit the drop in childhood obesity in the county to the Get Health San Mateo County initiative, a community-wide effort designed to reduce childhood obesity by promoting healthy habits. The health initiative was developed by a task force of 250 community leaders, who came from local school districts, community coalitions, parks and recreation departments.

Since the launch of Get Healthy San Mateo County, school officials and other interested groups have worked to increase the number of children walking and biking to school by improving streets and neighborhoods. Various community groups worked collaboratively over the past few years to remove junk foods from schools and neighborhood stores and to decrease sugary beverage consumption.  

According to the health study, which was released this month, San Mateo County is the only Bay Area county in which the incidence of childhood obesity has dropped. Still, in spite of the decrease, the study points out that 34% -- one in 3 children in the county – are still considered obese or overweight.

Some officials think the current decline in overweight and obese youngsters is proof that the Get Healthy San Mateo County initiative has had a positive impact.

“Seven years ago we made a commitment to turn the tide on obesity, and it looks like we are making progress,” said Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow. “A lot of the work the [county] health system and community are doing is about changing the physical environment to promote health.  It is also about re-designing food systems to support health. This work will take a long time before we see it pay off, but this study suggests we’re on the right track.”

The health study called attention to the fact that children who are overweight or obese often grow up to be obese adults with an increased risk for developing diabetes, several different cancers and various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and high blood pressure.

In explaining some of the positive findings in the obesity study, CCPHA’s Dr. Harold Goldstein said, “California led the nation in establishing many of the most innovative programs and policies that are improving our children’s chances for a healthier life. Increased awareness and a growing array of school and community policies and programs are beginning to have an impact. But in light of the huge number of counties where childhood obesity rates continue to climb, our efforts must continue and even expand, especially in those areas where we now know children are most at risk.”

To read more about the newly released health study, click “A Patchwork of Progress….” For more information on the work of the community collaborative to reduce childhood obesity, click Healthy Communities San Mateo County.

To contact Traci Moore, the author of this article, email epatoday@epatoday.org



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