July 4, 2010

Overweight kids: shape of the future

University of New England researchers sound the alarm about obesity trends in 'the work force of tomorrow.'

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Christine Lokoware, left, and Santa John, both of Portland, sell vegetables at the new Brackett Street market in Portland on Thursday. Lokoware says she tries to keep her children eating fresh produce despite all of the soda and processed foods available in stores here. "If you don't buy soda, they are not going to drink it," she said.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

"We want people to be healthy and have quality of life," said Rita Bubar, manager of Cianbro's human resources department and wellness program. "The benefit for us is everything from just increased morale to increased productivity to lower medical coats. There aren't any downsides."

Now, Bubar said, she and others at the company are talking more about the shape of the future work force. The company hopes to find ways to expand the wellness program to the children of employees.

"That is the work force of tomorrow," Bubar said. "We've been, this past year, talking about is there any way we can bring them more actively into the program."

Childhood obesity may be undermining the future work force in more subtle ways, too. Studies are showing that overweight students generally do not perform as well in school, said Ross, the Maine-Harvard researcher.

Ross surveyed 41 Maine educators from around the state and found that most -- 71 percent -- said students who are overweight or obese do not perform as well as their peers. They also said students are not getting the recommended amount of daily activity.

"The grass-roots (educators) see it and experience it. It's a validation of the research," Ross said.

Joseph Thompson, surgeon general in Arkansas and a national authority on youth obesity, told attendees at last week's conference that 30 years of changing diets and behavior has already created an obesity problem that is more costly than tobacco use.

"This is now. This is not a future issue," he said. "We've got to figure out how to undo what we have unintentionally allowed to happen."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

 

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