Already considered a national health crisis, the number of overweight and obese children continues to rise annually. As much as $7 billion is being spent this year to curb the problem through programs reaching nearly 5 million youngsters.
But a new survey out today has found that most initiatives are not focusing on the few things known to make a difference - and overall there is no consensus on what works best.
"There are some substantial holes in our efforts," said Dr. David McCarron, executive director of Shaping America's Youth, which commissioned the survey of 1,100 organizations that work with children. "For example, if you look at the data, most of the programs are directed at the middle-school years and older; yet we know if a child enters first grade and is overweight, they're more likely to be overweight" for life.
The survey is the first undertaking by Shaping America's Youth, a partnership of government and private groups that plans to offer guidance on preventing and treating weight problems in children.
No one disagrees about the severity of the issue, with the number of overweight children more than doubling from 1980 to 2000. By 2003, fully 15 percent of youngsters ages 6 to 18 years were overweight - up from 11 percent a year earlier.
The extra pounds contribute to myriad health dangers that already are emerging in younger people - type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and elevated cholesterol levels. Unless something is done, overweight children are bound for a lifetime of health struggles, experts say.
"Adult diseases begin in childhood, so once you become an obese adolescent, you become an obese adult and that becomes a life-shortening disease," said Dr. Carden Johnston, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.