The Florida Department of Health in Escambia County is putting the public health spotlight on children this week. “Every Kid Healthy Week” is part of their overall effort to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy behaviors for youth.
Launched in 2013 by Action for Healthy Kids, “Every Kid Healthy Week” is an annual observance held in the last week of April to spotlight the efforts of schools to improve the health and wellness of their students.
Being showcased locally are the wellness activities and achievements at Molino Park Elementary School, where they’re featuring a different color fruit or vegetable each day.
“We’re working with the children to look at nutrition, exercise and learning about those things that are important to know,” said Dr. John Lanza, director of DOH-Escambia.
His list includes sun safety, mosquito bite and prevention issues, as well as the “5-2-1-0 Let's Go Northwest Florida" program that’s been underway in the county for the last two to three years.
The “5-2-1-0” initiative promotes five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, less than two hours per day of TV and video game screen time, at least an hour of physical activity per day, and zero sugary drinks.
“And, I wish I could remember the song,” said Lanza, who is also a pediatrician. “But, if you ask any 6 or 7 year-old or 8 year-old, they can sing the 5-2-1-0 song. And, I’ve had that happen in my clinic before when I’d ask them about 5-2-1-0 and they’d start belting out this song.”
Dr. Lanza says the health department’s efforts to promote healthy eating and lifestyles is extremely important given the prevalence of childhood obesity.
“Our overweight and obesity rate in the state of Florida and nationally is about 66 to 67 percent,” Lanza said. “And, that is true in Escambia County, Florida and Santa Rosa also.”
Lanza pointed to the recent release of information on childhood obesity, showing that over 4 million children and young adults in the U.S. are obese.
In fact, a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University confirmed that childhood obesity is still rising.
The team of researchers reached the conclusion after scouring decades of data in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES). An article published by Medical News Today summarizes the findings.
According to Dr. Lanza, the danger is that obese children frequently become obese adults, who have a greater risk of secondary diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, and type II diabetes.
The prevalence of such diseases, health outcomes, and factors were all included in the County Health Rankings published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Dr. Lanza pointed out that Escambia County improved in at least 50 percent of the various measures that were used in the rankings report, adding that controlling obesity is a key to getting ahead of diseases such as diabetes.
Lanza applauds the efforts of their partners such as the area’s hospitals and local governments. For the second year in a row, DOH Escambia recently gave the City of Pensacola the Healthy Community Award for their extensive park system, with 94 parks across the city.
As noted with Every Kid Healthy Week, Lanza says the schools are doing their part, too, and they should.
“The first thing is that if you’re a healthy child, a healthy child will do better in school,” said Lanza. “I mean Malcolm Thomas, our school superintendent, he knows that. He wants the children in Escambia, and every superintendent wants their children to be healthy.”
According to Lanza, officials like Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and Pensacola Mayor Hayward are needed to support the health department’s effort to essentially “change how we’ve been raised,’ when it comes to fast foods and activities can lead to poor physical condition.
When it comes to efforts to educate children about heathy living, Lanza believes there could never be too much reinforcement. So, he plans to continue to reach out to the media to help get his message out.
More information can be found on the DOH-Escambia website.