Special to The City Sentinel
More than 100 young people are hoping to get the community talking about childhood obesity through the empowerME Youth Hosted Forum April 16 at the Edward L. Gaylord Downtown YMCA. The town hall-format event will include a panel of kids who will discuss the challenges and solutions to making their community a healthier place.
“This forum is all about kids raising their voices in the fight to end childhood obesity once and for all,” said Scotie Connor, 17, a high school senior at Casady School.
Connor is also a board member for the empowerME Movement, an initiative by kids for kids, which was created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The goal of empowerMe is to encourage young people to eat better, move more and inspire other youth in their community to do the same.
“Everyone has a role to play in reducing childhood obesity, including parents, schools, elected officials, health care professionals, faith-based organizations and private-sector companies,” Connor said.
Connor said his motivation comes from firsthand experience. His family has a history of heart disease and diabetes, adding, “I know that if I make healthy choices now, I will live a happy and healthy life
It motivated him to lose 40 pounds in middle school and he hasn’t looked back since. He swims, works out and loves to sing. He has sung in the Oklahoma All-State Choir since 7th grade.
Scotie was recently nominated to attend the National Youth Leaders Conference in Washington D.C.
An Eagle Scout, Connor said many kids opt for fast food because they don’t want to take the time to eat healthier. He said he hopes to work with Mayor Mick Cornett to encourage schools to offer better food and snack choices in schools.
National statistics indicate that childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades. Oklahoma is ranked 46th in the country for overall health. Nearly 30 percent of Oklahoma children are overweight or obese
“The Y’s focus on youth development and healthy living make us a natural partner in the youth hosted forum,” said Angela Jones, director of health and wellness initiatives for the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City. “We believe that through opportunities like this, kids will take a greater interest in learning about and making healthier life choices, which puts us on the right track for reducing the obesity rates in our state and beyond.”
In keeping with the focus on youth development and healthy living, Ys across the metro will offer a free heart-healthy program in June for kids 8-12 called EmpowerME4Life. The eight week, healthy living course combats childhood obesity by teaching kids new attitudes, skills and knowledge about eating better and increasing physical activity.
In addition, the Y will launch a new 5-2-1-0 initiative in local schools next fall. The initiative promote guidelines for healthy living including five servings of fruits and veggies a day, limiting screen time to two hours a day, one hour of physical activity a day and no sugary drinks.
“It’s all about empowering kids to develop healthy habits early on,” Jones said. “That is the key to turning around obesity rates in our state. It has to start with our kids feeling supported by adults.”
The Y will provide pilot elementary schools with a 5-2-1-0 toolkit and curriculum to use in the classroom. The 5-2-1-0 message is consistent with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative that seeks to promote making healthy choices, improving food quality in schools, increasing access to healthy, affordable food, and increasing physical activity in children.
Funding for the 5-2-1-0 initiative comes from a Pioneering Healthy Communities (PHC) grant provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City was one of 21 Ys across the country selected to receive the grant in 2009. The local PHC committee is focused on increasing opportunities for physical activity and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Currently only 16% of Oklahomans eat the adequate amount of fruits and vegetables and over 30% of Oklahomans report no physical activity,” Jones said.
PHC has also led to the development of a new Youth Learning Garden at the Edmond YMCA.
The community project will provide children who participate in Y’s afterschool and summer day camp programs with opportunities learn how grow, nurture and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.
“By connecting families and children to the natural world through gardening, we are better able to improve healthy behaviors, attitudes and knowledge about where food comes from and establish life-long health habits,” Jones said.
The garden is set to be planted this month. Children will sample the produce as a part of the youth learning garden curriculum. For more information on the Youth Hosted Forum or any of the Y programs, visit www.ymcaokc.org or call 405 297 7777.The Y is is a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.