Today's youth are considered the most inactive generation in history as the percentage of children and adolescents who are overweight and obese is now higher than ever before, according to the American Obesity Organization (AOA).
"Our community is reflective of what's going on nationally," agreed Homer Jackson, a physical education instructor for Sikeston Middle School.
The prevalence of obesity quadrupled over 25 years among boys and girls. Approximately 30.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3 percent are obese. For adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 30.4 percent are overweight and 15.5 percent are obese.
Being obese and being overweight are not the same condition. A person who has a body-mass index (BMI), which is a height-weight ratio, of 30 or more is considered obese and a BMI between 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight.
In the U.S., the only state that requires daily physical education for students in grades K to 12 is Illinois.
However Jackson said he and his colleagues in are taking a wholistic approach aimed at preventing obesity among children.
"What we're doing is focusing on aerobic capacity training rather than traditional games," Jackson explained. "We do a continual endurance run, pacer tests and strengthening like sit ups, pull ups and chin ups."
Poor dietary habits and inactivity are reported to contribute to the increase of obesity in youth, according to the American Obesity Association. The increase is caused in part by reductions in school physical education programs and unavailable or unsafe community recreational facilities.
"We have so many high fat, high calorie easily accessible snack foods and junk foods," noted registered and licensed dietitian Jennifer Stratman. "Kids just don't get the exercise they used to. A lot of its is because parents don't feel safe letting their kids get out and run around."
For this reason, the YMCA of Southeast Missouri offers several supervised physical activities for area children. Beginning Jan. 26, the YMCA is offering a strength training program for adolescents ages 12 to 15.
"It's an introductory class for weight lifting to teenagers," Kenneth Stone, YMCA fitness specialist. At that age, they have to avoid certain exercises."
Some of the exercises include stability ball workouts and circuit training. While strength training increases muscle mass, the adolescents still need aerobic activity, Stone pointed out.
Walking, running, cycling or team sports like soccer and basketball for more than 20 minutes at least three times a week.
"People should do anything that works for them," Stratman said. "Some like to workout with a friend. Some like to walk. Some like to do a tape at home or go outside. Even if it's just five minutes a day, it's better than none a day."
While the YMCA's programs aren't specifically targeted at preventing obesity, Stone said children's activities do have room for improvement. Video games are a big contributor, he said.
"Kids sit down and eat potato chips and drink sodas. They have so much entertainment inside that they're not getting outside," Stone said.
While the number of American obese children is on the rise, the figures for adults aren't any better. The number of obese adults has doubled in 20 years, and is now up to nearly 59 million people, or almost a third of all American adults, according to AOA.
"To live a basic, healthy lifestyle -- that's what we strive," Jackson said.
Many lifestyle changes can begin in the home, Stratman noted. "What I usually encourage is not necessarily cutting back on the meals, but the between meals," Stratman said. "I discourage types of snacking between meals and not drinking the calories like high sugary drinks. Some people eat so many calories snacking and do not realize it."
Some simple changes include baking, broiling or grilling foods instead of frying them, Stratman suggested. Eating more vegetables and fruits and selecting some of the healthier foods like bagels instead of donuts and croissants are all ways families can lead a healthier lifestyle, she said.
"The challenge now for our society, healthwise, is to lead a healthy lifestyle and tie it into the economic benefits and to save a lot of costs with preventative maintenance," Jackson said.
Overcoming excessive weight and obesity is a gradual process that begins with grass roots movements in schools, civic organizations, churches, the community and media, Jackson said.
Jackson wishes everyone to view their health the same way they view their computers and clothing -- as an investment, he said.
"If we value our health, it's a good indicator of where we're putting our priorities."
For more information, visit AOA's Web site: www.obesity.org.