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"Voinovich's View" - Healthy Kids Make for a Bright Future


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Since the mid-1970s, obesity rates in the United States have sky-rocketed for children and adults alike, raising serious concerns about the implications on Americans' health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that annual spending related to overweight and obese Americans is more than $264 billion -- exceeding what we spend on tobacco-related illnesses each year.

Ohioans have been particularly hard hit by this rise in obesity. Today nearly 29 percent of Ohio's adults are obese, making our state the 13th heaviest in the nation. And, according to the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ohio's childhood obesity rate is nearly 19 percent.

Obesity in America is nothing short of an epidemic, and it is putting nearly one third of our children and grandchildren at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke -- conditions usually associated with adulthood. Even greater disparities exist among young Hispanics and children of color. Experts say that the unhealthy eating habits and the sedentary nature of our children today could make them the first generation in American history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

As a father of three and grandfather of eight, the overall health and wellness of my family is of the utmost importance to me. The best choice every parent and grandparent can make is the choice to be a role model to their family by maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. We truly are our own best doctor and have the freedom to choose what our families eat and drink, and how much exercise we get. Each of these personal choices come together to help determine our overall health and well-being.

Earlier this year, I joined forces with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswomen Marcia Fudge (D-11th) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) in support of a resolution to designate September 2010 as the first annual National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Our hope is that our action will raise awareness about the childhood obesity epidemic and encourage community programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity among all generations.

I am pleased that first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity one of her top priorities, and that President Obama joined us last week in issuing the official proclamation requested by us proclaiming September 2010 as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
Looking out for our children is nothing new for me. As Ohio's governor, I started the Help Me Grow program to promote prenatal and early-childhood health by providing free information to expectant mothers about prenatal care and early-childhood development. During my administration, infant mortality decreased and the percentage of fully vaccinated 2-year-olds increased from 20 percent to 71 percent. I have always understood the importance of preventative health care measures, and that's why I am working today to bring more attention to childhood obesity.

There are several things we can do right now to create a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and our children.

* Eat healthier -- When possible buy fresh ingredients -- stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables at your local Ohio-grown farmers market. At home, watch portion sizes and reduce the amount of salt and sugar in your recipes. Eating a healthy combination of fruits, vegetables and proteins will make you feel better and provide you with the energy you need for your day.
* Dine together -- Dining together creates healthier eating habits and healthier lives. Studies show that children who share meals with their families enjoy a more balanced diet.
* Get Moving -- Experts recommend children exercise at least an hour a day. I am constantly looking for fun activities that allow me to spend quality time with my grandkids and get exercise. We often visit Lake Erie, go on walks around our neighborhood, or visit one of Ohio's great museums. I also encourage my grandchildren to put down the video game controller and get outside to play with friends. School or club sports teams are fun ways for children to get much-needed physical activity while socializing with classmates.

To lead by example, I've made getting more exercise a part of my daily routine. Each morning I ride my stationary bike, which gives me the energy to get through all the meetings, votes, hearings and speeches that fill my Capitol Hill schedule. I wear a pedometer daily to count my steps and try to walk and take the stairs as often as I can -- much to the chagrin of my staff. These little additions of daily activity add up. In fact, I'm 60 pounds lighter than I was when I became mayor of Cleveland.

Maintaining my weight and getting my exercise are two vital pieces of the overall puzzle of good health, and although I will retire at the end of this Congress, I have no intention of slowing down. My family will need to run to catch up to me -- especially my grandkids. Celebrating the inception of September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month marks an important legacy for me as we come together to instill a passion for healthy living in families across America.

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