Weighty problem

Speaker addresses rising obesity rates of Americans

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GABE GREEN/Press Keynote Speaker at the 3rd Annual North Idaho Luncheon for the Idaho Community Foundation, Director for the Health Promotion Division at the Spokane Regional Health District Kyle Unland speaks out about the growing trend of childhood obesity in America Tuesday afternoon.

COEUR d'ALENE - This should take less than 10 minutes to read, so stand up and stretch right now and once again when you're finished.

That's one easy step to a healthier lifestyle.

Another, instead of emailing your coworkers a few desks away, get up and go tell them in person, like people used to do in the old days.

They're easy steps, according to Kyle Unland, but they can be life changing. Culture-changing, in fact, as America and its children are getting fatter.

"To this point, we've been reactionary to obesity," said Unland, director for the health promotion division at the Spokane Regional Health District, headlining The Idaho Community Foundation annual luncheon Tuesday at The Coeur d'Alene Resort. "We get new statistics and say, 'oh, we really have to do something about this.'"

The statistics can be alarming. Nearly 27 percent of Americans are obese right now, up from 16 percent in 1995. By 2030, it's estimated 42 percent will cross that threshold.

Instead, Unland said, the country should "look at our society now, look at our home environment, and see if we can be proactive."

But it could take a 180 degree turn.

Stacked against the average person is how the country has made it too easy to be inactive. Obesity is a complex problem where genetics come into play, but subdivisions have been built without walking paths, fatty greasy food is usually the cheapest on the wallet, and people either have long commutes to work - where they sit in front of a computer - or work from home.

"Something has happened along the way" to make this happen, Unland said.

America's waistline is on track to keep expanding, too.

In 2011, at least 23 percent of all Idaho adolescents are overweight or obese, according to Unland's presentation. Nationally, nearly 35 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds fall in that category, a "very troubling statistic" Unland said, because it's only going to go up as those people age.

Obesity figures are calculated through a Body Mass Index formula dividing person's mass with their squared-height. Scores of 25 to 30 are considered overweight, and anything above 30 is obese.

While BMI scores don't reflect a person's lean muscle mass and can be a misleading indicator to a person's overall health, especially athletes, it's the general formula used to gauge a population's size.

How bad is inactivity in today's youth?

According to Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute, the average kid spends four to seven minutes outdoors playing, compared to four to seven hours in front of an electronic screen. Overall, America spends $150 billion in health care annually because of weight-related poor health.

The luncheon focused on local nonprofits who promote active, healthy lifestyles for kids, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Kootenai County, Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics, Boundary County Backpacks and Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute. Boundary County earned a $2,500 scholarship for its work in providing healthy food for students in need.

But what more can be done to halt the troubling trend?

Already the ICF has pledged up to $50,000 a year for three years to the Panhandle Health District as part of a partnership to help reduce childhood obesity in the five northern counties of the state. The aforementioned nonprofits combat the problem, but cities and communities need to work together to solve the problem, Unland said. Develop neighborhoods with bike and walking paths. Businesses should implement health policies. Schools need to tackle the problem head on, too, by offering healthier eating options and recess before lunch, so kids aren't in a hurry to gobble down junk food so they can go play.

"We can't be afraid to change policies," he said, adding that he applauded North Idaho's active role, including the nonprofits, in promoting health. "Take a really hard look at your life, what can you do in your community?"

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