WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- U.S. childhood obesity is due to children in homes, schools and neighborhoods where it's easy to eat excess calories and difficult to work off, an expert says.
Dr. Tom Farley, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, and Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss., talked about the strategies that have been effective in addressing the obesity epidemic in their communities at a conference of Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association.
"To reverse this epidemic, we must create a healthier food environment for them and engineer physical activity back into their daily lives," Farley said during the keynote session.
Last year, four states and five cities or counties had measured declines in their childhood obesity rates. The specifics varied for each location, but the declines generally were measured since the mid-2000s and range from a 1.1 percent decline among students in grades 5, 7 and 9 in California, to a 13 percent decline among K-5 students in Mississippi. All of the locations took comprehensive action to address the epidemic.
"As community leaders, we have an obligation to create an atmosphere and opportunity for good health in our cities," Johnson said. "This can be done in a variety of ways such as hosting a farmers market that makes locally grown, healthy food available to people from all parts of the community; mandating sidewalks in all new and redeveloped properties; and creating a park system to offer opportunities for recreation on a daily basis."
In Mississippi, Johnson said the obesity and overweight rate fell from 43 percent in the spring of 2005 to 37.3 percent in the spring of 2011 among Mississippi public school students in grades K-5.
Farley said the obesity rate fell from 21.9 percent in 2006-07 to 20.7 percent in 2010-11 among New York City public school students in grades K-8, a 5.5 percent decline.