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Childhood Obesity Levels 1-in-2 In Parts Of Ohio

Chubby cheeks or what's commonly referred to as baby fat on children and teens may seem harmless. But in some parts of Ohio half of children are overweight or even obese. WOSU reports a Columbus gym and other organizations hope summer programs will shrink the waistlines of area teens.

A man does a quick warm up walk before he starts his run on a state-of-the-art treadmill. He's one of about a couple dozen gym goers at the Henderson Road Lifestyle Family Fitness on this afternoon. The members are a mix of adults 20-somethings, others middle-aged. A few senior citizens take to the workout equipment.

But this summer, Lifestyle Family Fitness CEO Geoff Dyer hopes his Columbus gyms will be packed with teenagers. Dyer, who had his own weight problems as a teen, is giving 12 to 17 year olds a free, two month pass to his gyms.

"It's a very difficult time to go through high school as a teenager anyway, but on top of that when you're overweight. There's a lot of peer pressure from other students you're subject to, and there are self-esteem issues that go along with that. And I think that as a result of being overweight and being picked on teenagers tend to become reclusive. And that's certainly what happened with me," Dyer said.

At age 18, Dyer joined a health club and lost the extra weight. Now he wants to share the experience.

"Having a chance to exercise in an adult environment gives them a whole different perspective about the way fitness can be fun and rewarding at the same time," he said.

But getting a teen out of the house to go to the gym is a challenge. The National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality reports about 15 percent of Ohio school-age children watch TV or play video games at least four hours every day. And the group reports a third of the state's children are overweight or obese.

Doctor Robert Murray directs the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Children's Hospital. He said the problem is even worse in low income areas

"If you look at urban counties, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Columbus, you find in the inner city - where there's high risk because of poverty and ethnicity - that the rate's actually one in two. About fifty percent of kids are overweight. So it's alarmingly high. The same is true in rural areas along the Ohio River," Murray said.

And, Murray reports the childhood obesity epidemic even extends to pre-schoolers.

"It's also captured younger and younger kids. And we're seeing obesity rates among two- to five-year-olds running at extremely high levels now compared to what it was thirty years ago," he said.

Columbus leaders have tried to encourage the city get more active with its Institute for Active Living which promotes expanding or linking the city's sidewalks, bike trails and farmer's markets. Barb Seckler directs the Institute, and said this summer it will offer a "get active" website where children and their parents can find free or low-cost activities around the city.

"There's going to find linkages and connections to very many places whether it's our recreation and parks, our metro parks, our YWCA/YMCAs, that parents will have a lot of information to see. And then maybe specifically in their neighborhood where the closer by things that kids can do," Seckler said.

Heather Glick is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist for Children's Hospital. She said childhood obesity is vicious cycle that can lead to obesity as an adult.

"You kind of start to gain a couple pounds. Then we move on to the next stage of kind of where we're feeling that we're tired, we don't won't to do the physical activity and then we're gaining more weight. And then it's to the point where we can't keep up. It physically hurts to participate," Glick said. Children's Hospital Doctor Murray said almost every tissue of the body reacts to extra fat. He said he has seen third graders with cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. And Murray said teenagers who continue to carry over the extra weight from childhood can have orthopedic problems, menstrual problems and sleep apnea.

The solution, Murray said, is as simple as getting kids moving and eating right. But he said it's not easy - it's like quitting smoking.

"The estimates are that this generation of kids, if we don't bring these health concerns under tight control fairly quickly that they'll be a generation of kids that will not make it to the same age as their parents unfortunately," Murray warned.