Healthy opportunities for all of our kids

By Scott Washburn

Reducing childhood obesity in the Pacific Northwest requires parental involvement and broad-based community support — and a much stronger effort to reach low-income households and minorities.

Compared with many other regions in our nation, Western Washington has a reputation for having a culture of physical activity, rain or shine. Unfortunately, this can cause us to tune out national reports about childhood obesity, thinking that the problem is not as serious in our community. But it is. Approximately 30 percent of teens in Western Washington are overweight or obese and only 15 percent meet the recommended amount of physical activity (one hour per day). These numbers are significantly higher among ethnic groups, according to the most recent Washington State Healthy Youth Survey.

We face a daunting challenge to empower local kids and teens to prevent chronic disease and achieve the physical and mental health necessary to graduate from high school and contribute to society. Parents are critical to creating healthier habits in the home, but many lack the practical knowledge and skills needed to modify behaviors. This is where the influence of community-based organizations can be instrumental. However, the problem is too large for any one organization to address singlehandedly. Safeguarding the future of our community by protecting our children’s health requires long-term collaboration.

With spring here and summer planning underway for activities for kids, now is the time to increase our focus on immediate opportunities to empower kids and families to incorporate healthier habits into their routines. Summer is the ideal time for kids to get up, get out and get active, but for some kids, exposure to activities that stimulate both the body and mind ends with the school year. In fact, research shows that kids are more prone to gain weight and fall behind academically over the summer months. With greater than one third of local children in public education failing to graduate from high school, we must do everything possible to support regular physical activity, proper nutrition and education year-round.

To kick-start physical activity and learning throughout the summer, today 1,900 Ys across the country and here in Snohomish County are hosting Healthy Kids Day, a free community event for kids and families. The event offers a wide range of fun activities, healthy snacks and information on enriching summer programs. It also provides a forum for the Y’s like-minded community partners to host exhibits and demonstrations, sharing their knowledge with tens of thousands of local parents. The goal of Healthy Kids Day is to inspire three things in kids and families, locally and nationally: healthy lifestyles and physical activity year-round, a commitment to educational activities over the summer and closer connections in the community.

The Y recognizes that one event on a single day, no matter how well-attended and organized, is not the answer, but we believe it is part of the bigger answer. For the sake of our kids and our community, let’s work together to make every day Healthy Kids Day. We look forward to working more closely with our neighbors year-round to address critical gaps in health and education that are causing our kids to be at increased risk for childhood obesity and to suffer summer learning loss.

Scott Washburn is president and CEO of the YMCA of Snohomish County.