Duval County health officials are launching a campaign aimed at stemming childhood obesity.
The county has had mild success reducing the rate among young kids, but the number of overweight teens — especially in the urban core — continues to climb.
The Duval County Health Department is using a program called 5 - 2- 1- 0 to target areas with the biggest problem.
No one was shooting hoops on Johnson Family YMCA basketball court in Northwest Jacksonville Wednesday morning. Around 70 adults and kids instead gathered for the health department’s announcement. Betty Burney, the director of the youth-leadership group I’m a STAR Foundation, told the crowd the campaign can help ensure obesity doesn’t slow kids down.
“The late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who was the president of Morehouse College and a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, said that every child was born into this world was born into this world to do something unique and distinctive. And if he or she does not do it, perhaps it won't get done,” she said.
The numbers are daily recommendations for kids: consume five servings of fruits and vegetables. Limit screen time to two hours. Have one hour of physical activity and zero sugary drinks.
Duval health department Director Kelli Wells calls childhood obesity an epidemic.
“It is about putting information in the hands of the people of our community to really make an impact on the rates of obesity and chronic disease in our community,” she says.
Statewide, around 30 percent of kids are obese or overweight. Jacksonville’s rate is similar, and worse in low-income areas. The Centers for Disease Control also rate the Jacksonville metro area as one of the worst in the country when it comes to adult obesity.
That’s why Wells says the program, funded mostly by a grant from the Florida Blue Foundation, has its limitations — it can only educate, not fix structural problems that lead to unhealthy habits.
“I’ll tell you where the challenge is: meeting the need of folks who don't have the access that we assume is
available to others,” she says.
Parts of the urban core and rural areas of Jacksonville don't have supermarkets and are considered “food deserts.”
On top of that, a 2013 study conducted by the Trust for Public Land found children who live in areas without safe outdoor play areas are far more likely to be obese. The trust found some of those parts of town have childhood obesity rates as high as 38 percent.