Obesity rate declines in Mohave County

KINGMAN - Mohave County appears to be following a recent national decline in childhood obesity.

According to a recent study of the Arizona Women, Infants and Children program by the Arizona Department of Health Services, obesity in Mohave County children between the ages of zero to 5 years old on WIC has dropped from a high of 12.6 percent in 2008 and 2010 to 10.7 percent of children in 2011. The WIC program provides food vouchers and other services to low-income women and children.

"We're making progress, but it's going to be a while before we see significant results," said Mohave County WIC Director Deborah Conter. "Since the 1970s, there have been huge cultural changes. Children are watching more TV. There's so much more fast food and sugary drinks and people are busy. Sometimes it's easier to grab something quick to eat."

Conter attributed the county's success to changes made in the foods offered through WIC and changes in how the program educates people.

"For the last 25 years, we had milk, eggs, cheese, cereal, juice and peanut butter on the program. The WIC program was originally designed to help undernourished children," she said. "Now we have the opposite problem, children who are over nourished. So, we cut back on the juice and added fruits and vegetables, whole grains and 1 percent or lower milk."

WIC counselors also meet one-on-one with those on the program to address their direct nutrition needs, Conter said.

Previously, the department held general nutrition classes that people were required to attend.

According to a study by the Mohave County Department of Public Health, WIC served 4,500 clients a month in 2011. More than half the children born in the county were born to women using the WIC program, and nearly 25 percent of county children between the ages of 1 and 5 are also in WIC.

The Mohave County information follows a recent decline in obesity shown in a national study of 12 million children in WIC program by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study showed 18 states with a slight drop in child obesity rates, 19 states with no significant change and an increase in three states - Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Ten states were not included in the study because they changed how they track the weight and height of children in the program.

On average, 14.4 percent of children across the nation are obese, or approximately one child in eight between the ages of 2 and 5.

Arizona was one the 19 states with no significant change.

Arizona's child obesity rate reached a high of 14.6 percent in 2008 and started to drop in 2009.

In 2011, approximately 14.5 percent, or more than 86,000 children, on the WIC program in Arizona were designated as obese.

According to the CDC, the cause of childhood obesity is simply eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise.

However, making health choices are not always easy for parents on a budget, according to the CDC.

Children and parents are bombarded with advertising on a daily basis, many communities aren't built with a safe place to exercise (nearly half of the children in the U.S. don't have a park, sidewalks or community center in their neighborhood), some families don't have access to healthy foods because they don't have access to a supermarket and where there are supermarkets, the cheapest foods are usually the ones with the most calories.

For more information on WIC, the Mohave County Tobacco Use Prevention Program or the Arizona Nutrition Network, call the Mohave County Nutrition and Health Program at (928) 753-0794.