For Healthier Kids
MADISON - "The number one health problem facing Wisconsin children is poor physical fitness and obesity," says Aaron Carrel, MD,
medical director of UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic.
Dr. Carrel isn't the only one sounding the clarion call against childhood overweight and obesity. The Centers for Disease Control reports "the prevalence of overweight among children aged 6 to 11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, going from 7 percent in 1980 to 18.8 percent in 2004. The rate among adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than tripled, increasing from 5 percent to 17.1 percent."
In Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle included an emphasis on childhood health and fitness as a major component of his 2004 KidsFirst Initiative. The KidsFirst report points out that instruction in fitness is necessary because "one in four Wisconsin high school students is overweight" and "children who are inactive are at major risk for health problems later in life."
The Governor is right. Unhealthy kids often become unhealthy adults, with a higher proclivity for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and respiratory ailments.
To combat this escalating health crisis, Dr. Carrel and the staff at the Pediatric Fitness Clinic are introducing the Youth Fitness Initiative, a multifaceted plan designed to teach the state's children how to live healthier lives.
"Children are being harmed by physical inactivity," says Randy Clark, manager of the UW Health Exercise Science Laboratory and Pediatric Fitness Clinic. "We look to the future by looking at children, but research suggests this is the first generation in history with a shorter life span than their parents."
The Youth Fitness Initiative's approach will be three-pronged:
- Research: Use empirical evidence to continue to design innovative physical education curriculum, measure fitness improvements and publish results.
- Patient Care: Expand the physical space of the existing Pediatric Fitness Clinic into a larger, more comprehensive Center for Youth Fitness to provide the ability to see more patients.
- Education: Offer seminars centered on child obesity issues to physicians, health professionals, teachers and the public.
The Youth Fitness Initiative is a logical extension of the inroads the Pediatric Fitness Clinic staff has already made in fighting pediatric overweight and obesity. They renovated the physical education curriculum at Stoughton's River Bluff Elementary School to include lifestyle-based activities like mountain biking and rollerblading and found that the students were more excited about gym class and, at the end of the term, showed significant reductions in body fat and improvements in cardiovascular fitness.
And earlier this year the Pediatric Fitness Clinic joined the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to form the Wisconsin Partnership for Childhood Fitness (WPCF). Using a $446,568 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, WPCF will be exploring valid ways to measure physical fitness in children, organizing curriculum improvements for physical education classes and establishing a Web site so schools throughout the state will have a cost-effective way of monitoring and improving the fitness levels of their students.
The Pediatric Fitness Clinic currently has the capacity to see about 600 children per year, evaluating their activity and nutritional habits and developing personalized fitness regimens to point children to a healthier path. Starting with an April 12 fundraiser at the Sports Medicine Center, the Clinic hopes to raise enough money to expand their facilities to accommodate 1,500 patients annually.
"The establishment of the Center for Youth Fitness will provide the space and facilities needed to carry forth our commitment to addressing this important childhood health problem," says Dr. Carrel, "and to merge the expertise and enthusiasm of UW Children's Hospital health care providers with community, school and public health resources in Madison and surrounding communities."
Clark, whose work at the Exercise Science Laboratory has included training University of Wisconsin athletes for improved endurance, power and strength, sees a long-term benefit of ingraining healthy habits early in life.
"It's been fun working with teams striving for a national title," he says. "Now, using the same lab and technology, we have extended our work to overweight children. With UW athletes you can improve performance. But with these kids, you can change a life forever."
For more information about UW Health's Youth Fitness Initiative, please call (608) 890-9315.
Date Published: 01/10/2008