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Supersized Kids, Diminishing Health.

Child Obesity Expanding
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A study released last week by insurance provider CIGNA Corp. found that children now spend an average of 14 hours watching television per week. Children aged 12 to 14 average almost seven hours per week playing video games.

"There has been no shift in the gene pool over the last 20 years, so this has to be an environmental issue," says Still, who is director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.

The trend is affecting far more than the weight of America's children. It is affecting their health. There has been a 10-fold increase in the number of children with type 2 diabetes during the past five years. Once called adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity and sedentary lifestyle.

"Until recently, type 2 diabetes was rare in kids," Still says. "Now it accounts for 40% to 50% of the diabetes among children." And when it comes to treating children, Still says that doctors are seeing more high blood pressure than have seen in the past -- another weight-related problem.

So what can be done to reverse this trend, and put kids on a healthier path? Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the government can do a lot, with more money to beef up vanishing physical education programs in schools and to institute mass media public health campaigns to make people aware of the problem. CSPI is a Washington-based lobbying group that focuses on health and environmental issues.

Jacobson says it would be easy to pay for these initiatives by imposing small taxes on snack foods and soft drinks. About a dozen states now levy such a tax, and they raise $1 billion a year, he says.

There also are legislative efforts in a handful of states aimed at getting soft drink and snack food vending machines out of schools. Such efforts are being challenged by school systems, which generate revenue from the machines.

Still says sodas and other sugary drinks, including fruit juices, have played a huge role in the fattening of the nation's kids. One of the easiest ways to eliminate calories from a diet is to cut out sugary drinks, he says.

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