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OUR VIEW: Obesity numbers show we know problem exists

Obesity rates among very young children in low-income homes have fallen in 19 states and territories, including South Dakota, giving us great hope as America continues its fight against this epidemic.

Over the past 30 years, the obesity rate for young children doubled. And although the recently announced decline is very small -- about a 1 percent decrease in South Dakota -- we see it as light at the end of the tunnel.

For years, we have worried about obesity among our children. Anyone who thinks it's not a problem should simply look around -- it doesn't take a sleuth to see that there are more obese kids today than there were three, four or five decades ago.

Although these most recent statistics refer to young children, ages 2 to 4, obesity is a problem for all childhood age groups. For example, in South Dakota, 32 percent of children 5 to 19 are overweight. Sixteen percent are considered obese.

Decision-makers are getting the point, too.

Last year, the National School Lunch Program was revamped to provide healthier meals for students. At first blush, we liked those changes, but we learned later that the new meals were not providing enough bulk to properly fuel active kids' appetites. We've decided that the program needs tweaking, but at least consider it a good first step.

First Lady Michelle Obama is pushing her Let's Move! campaign, which encourages kids to get active. Another national effort is the National Football League's Play 60 campaign, which is working to convince children to be active for at least 60 minutes a day.

Anyone who grew up before cell phones, video games and easy access to junk food probably shakes their head at these campaigns, but we consider them quite necessary to help shrink our kids' growing waistlines.

Locally, there are many new options for kids that didn't exist years ago, including programs like Girls On the Run.

There is no immediate answer to the obesity epidemic, but we're headed in the right direction. As with many social problems, the first step is simply admitting that a problem exists, and these recent statistics -- coupled with so many great awareness efforts -- show that we recognize there is a problem.