Childhood Obesity Reaches Soaring ‘Heights’

(Photo via The Uptowner)

(Photo via The Uptowner)

Washington Heights is home to some of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city – according to city agencies, 47 percent of kids in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood are either overweight or obese. In an Uptowner article, Rubi Barragan looks at local efforts to get families to develop healthy eating habits and increase their physical activity. The Y, for example, offers kids classes in cooking and healthy eating habits, pre-ballet and capoeira.

But why do nearly half of the children in Washington Heights have weight issues?

The Department of Education started measuring student health in 2005 through the Fitnessgram program, which looks at “body mass index, weight, height and level of physical activity.” But some think it should go further.

Some researchers believe Fitnessgram should also track socioeconomic status and race. “The program should collect info about race/ethnicity and SES so that city health officials can track progress addressing obesity and lack of fitness for specific demographic groups,” says Kathryn Neckerman, associate director of the Health and Society Scholars Program at Columbia University Medical Center, via email.

“Hispanic children–boys and girls–and African American girls are at a higher risk of obesity than other children,” says Neckerman.

Neckerman, who has studied childhood obesity, has found that “problems of childhood obesity are more common among children whose families have lower income.”

According to CHALK (Choosing Healthy and Active Lifestyles for Kids) – a collaborative program between the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Ambulatory Care Network and Columbia University Medical Center’s Department of Child & Adolescent Health – in 2010, Latinos made up 71 percent of the neighborhood, most of them Dominican. Barragan added that “Dominicans have the highest poverty level, 26 percent, among the nation’s Hispanic population, the American Community Survey has found.”

Some residents, like teens Vianca Ottenwalder and Fernando Ramirez, say ethnicity plays a role in obesity.

Ottenwalder, who is diabetic and a Dominican immigrant, claims stress has contributed to her own and to Washington Heights’ obesity problems. “In our country, it’s not like here; we don’t stress as much,” says Ottenwalder. Both students also blame culture; the stereotype of Spanish-speaking families eating heavily, they say, is true. “I’m not stereotyping, we enjoy food,” Ottenwalder says. “I come to the house, if you don’t eat it’s a problem.”

What do other locals say? How are area restaurants stepping in to combat obesity? Read more at The Uptowner.

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