Child obesity has become an epidemic. Experts recognize that exercise and diet are the keys to keeping kids healthy, but not all schools offer equal physical education and meal programs. Where is it healthiest for your children to live? Child magazine conducted a study to find the best and worst states for fit kids. Executive editor Andrea Barbalich was invited on "Today" to share the results and the top five states for fit kids.
In a classroom of 20 American school children, four are now overweight or obese — twice the number there were 25 years ago. Seven of the children in that classroom will be obese as adults, and some may suffer heart attacks as early as age 30. If we continue to follow the current food and fitness trends, in 15 years 75 percent of Americans will be overweight.
What are states doing and not doing?Even though parents can foster fitness by feeding their kids healthy meals and encouraging active games and regular exercise, school and state governments play a big role as well. For example, some states require daily physical education classes for all elementary school students, while others don't require any.
Five best states for fit kids5. Missouri — With increased emphasis on standardized test scores, more schools are cutting out recess. Missouri is one of three states requiring recess for elementary students and one in six kids in the state participates in YMCA programs.
4. Massachusetts — Residents here are enthusiastic about sports, and not just the Red Sox. One in six kids play youth soccer (the highest number in our survey) and one in 10 play little league baseball or softball. Massachusetts also has one of the largest “safe routes to schools” programs in the country.
3. Vermont — In 2003, Vermont launched the “fit and healthy kids initiative,” which allocated funds for programs to increase self-esteem and fitness in middle-school girls. In addition, Vermont education officials have drafted a model fitness and nutrition policy calling for 150 minutes of physical education weekly for elementary students and the ban of vending machines during school hours.
2. New York — New York has passed legislation banning the sale of soda, gum and candy from the start of school through lunch, and the state is now working on banning it the entire day. The current proposed state budget includes $3 million over the next two years for a childhood obesity prevention program. Also, 94 percent of high-school students take physical education, the highest percentage of our survey and double the national average.
1. Connecticut — Just a few years ago, Connecticut didn't even have a plan to combat obesity; now they are the best state for fit kids. The state requires physical activity daily for kids in kindergarten through 5th grade, has the fewest fast-food restaurants per capita, and junk food and soda in school cafeterias have been replaced with items like yogurt and fruit.
The worst state for fit kidsThe states that scored poorly all have common factors: No mandatory P.E. classes, no nutrition classes, little sport and lots of junk food. The worst is Alaska. The state only requires physical education for high-school students. As for elementary schools, even when it's offered, about 85 percent of classes are taught by regular teachers instead of specialists. Alaska also has poor safety ratings on its playgrounds.