Childhood Obesity Conference 

Wayne Harvey

Medical professionals, educators, and community members gathered in Bangor today for a conference on childhood obesity.Studies indicate about 40 percent of kids entering kindergarten in Maine are overweight or obese.Jessica Donze-Black the National School Director for Alliance for a Healthier Generation was the keynote speaker.”When we look at public health issues that have turned the corner over time, tobacco, seat belts, recycling, kids had a lot to do with moving us in the right direction.”In just the last few years, Donze-Black says things are heading in the right direction regarding childhood obesity. “I think we’re absolutely starting to see the trends start to turn in the right direction, particularly in the nutrition area we’ve made huge strides in the past ten years if you look at the past 20 years of data around the food in the schools leading up to about 2006 things weren’t headed in a very healthy direction in terms of what was in the vending machines, school stores, and fund raisers. Since 2006 we’ve made marked changes across the country and Maine being one of the leaders in that area.”Penny Townsend is the school health coordinator for RSU 19 in the Newport area. She says there’s still room for improvement. “Recess is decreasing especially at the middle and high school levels but we’ve tried to incorporate a program called take time which actually increases physical activity during the school day in addition to recess and physical education and it’s activities that they can do in the classroom”And Donzee-Black agrees. “The next frontier is the physical activity frontier, we have seen a decline in recess and a continued decline in physical education around the country and we need to really focus on that area as well to make sure that we’re doing things in a balanced way. Both healthy nutrition and adding physical activity.”According to Townsend, those on hand hope this conference will give them ideas to take advantage of their time with the kids. “We see them for a good seven and a half eight hours of their day so we feel like we can really make an impact by improving their nutrition and giving them more physical activity opportunities.”