Childhood obesity causes concern in local communities

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This generation of American children is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of their unhealthy food choices and sedentary lifestyles, said several childhood obesity experts Tuesday.

More than 30 of the Austin’s board commissioners, along with other community health experts, discussed some solutions the city can take to address the childhood
obesity epidemic.

“We thought ourselves one of the fittest cities in the country, but we leave many behind in the process,” said city manager Marc Ott in a video message to the audience. “Solving the problem requires not only education but modeling our best behaviors and facilities
to guidance.”

The Mendez and Dove Springs neighborhoods in Austin have a higher concentration of obese children, which is strongly linked to families with lower socioeconomic status, said Stephen Pont, medical director for Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity.

Pont said some of the health consequences of childhood obesity are sleep apnea, liver disease, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Obese teenagers are 13 times more likely to have a stroke in their lifetime and twice as likely to die before the age of 30, when compared to nonobese teenagers, he said.

Pont said mental health consequences of obesity are often overlooked. Depression and anxiety from the stigma of being obese take a toll on children.

“Children who are obese reported that their quality of life were the same as children with cancer,” Pont said.

Architecture professor Robert Paterson said Austin needs to be creative when it comes up with solutions to fighting obesity, including encouraging more outdoor activities such as zip lines at Barton Springs.

Seven graduate students worked on a project for architecture professor Talia McCray’s Public Health & the Built Environment class. They looked at the Dove Springs area and tried to understand the reasons why there was a higher concentration of childhood obesity, focusing on factors such as food accessibility, parks and sidewalks.

According to the study, residents in Dove Springs and similar neighborhoods face daily concerns about crime that affects their amount of physical activity, said Andres Galindo, a community and regional planning graduate student. The neighborhoods have parks, but residents don’t use them because they do not feel safe, he said. He said the class learned from focus groups with community members that the problem is they don’t feel safe.

“They don’t like to take their kids to the park because there are gangs selling drugs or fighting,” Galindo said.