More children are overweight in Illinois than the majority of
children in the United States. Lack of physical education in
schools, high rates of poverty and scarce access to healthy foods
may be at the heart of Illinois' childhood obesity problem, experts
Many parents see overweight children as a personal issue or a
lack of self-control. But the issue of obesity "goes way beyond
personal choice," according to Dr. Adam Becker, director of
Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. Parents and
communities must recognize poor habits if the state's obesity rates
are going to drop, he says.
Lack of physical education
Even though the Illinois State Board of Education mandates
physical education every day for school-age children kindergarten
through 12th grade, some schools in Illinois do not enforce the
rule. In the Chicago Public School system, for example, most
children attend gym class only once per week. In the suburbs,
physical education in schools varies widely.
Many schools have applied for a physical education waiver. A
waiver legally allows a school or school district to restrict or
eliminate the amount of physical education. The rationale for
waivers varies from a lack of funding, unsuitable facilities or a
decline in academic achievement. Through the efforts of the
Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and
Dance waivers to eliminate or reduce physical education by school
districts was reduced to a maximum of six years.
Socioeconomic factors place certain children at greater risk for
obesity as well. According to Consortium to Lower Obesity in
Chicago Children, childhood obesity rates are highest in poor
communities of color. CLOCC reports that in neighborhoods with high
black and Hispanic populations, such as Humboldt Park, the rates of
obesity are higher than 40 percent. In Norwood Park, a
predominantly white neighborhood, the obesity rate is below 10
Black and Hispanic obesity rates are increasing faster than that
of whites. David Shoham, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine
and Epidemiology at the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola
University, says that as poverty levels increase, so does the
percent of overweight and obese individuals.
Minorities living in poorer communities also have less access to
healthy foods and may find themselves in a "food desert." Food
deserts are communities, such as Maywood, where no major grocery
store is available to buy healthy foods.
Instead people in these communities are forced to buy canned and
processed foods, which are less healthy and contain more calories
than fresh fruits and vegetables. In June, the Illinois General
Assembly approved $10 million for the Illinois Fresh Food Fund,
which would stimulate supermarket development in underserved areas
across the state.
In some neighborhoods children do not play outside due to safety
concerns. Some parents are even reluctant to take children to parks
in Chicago because of increased crime, violence and traffic.
Janelle Lanter Brown is a freelance writer, an online
contributor at examiner.com and an English teacher at Harper
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