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  • Hedda Jarhall

The rise of childhood obesity in Palm Beach County

Obesity affects many children in Palm Beach County, but with the families' knowledge about plate sizes and physical activity, children can live a life without social problems and sicknesses related to their obesity. (Photo courtesy: The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County)

In the United States, 1 in 5 children may struggle with childhood obesity, according to recent data.

This issue has implications for both physical and mental health, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other diseases, anxiety and depression, social problems and adulthood obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Erin Gallagher, division-wide president for communications and planning at the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, is working to address childhood obesity through resources for families and children up to the age of 12, as well as making connections to other relevant agencies. The coalition offers scholarships for childcare, food and housing, and collaborates with other organizations to support families.

“We are there to support children and get them ready for school, and supporting families and get the whole family ready for school and also ready for life,” Gallagher said.

To reduce childhood obesity, Gallagher emphasized the importance of educating parents. The coalition provides information about healthy habits and practices at parent groups and works to engage with families where they are.

“For us, it is really about outreach, engagement and information to families and meeting them where they are because every family has different habits and practices with eating,” Gallagher said.

A main cause of childhood obesity is large portion sizes and increased snacking on non-nutritional food, according to the science journal, “Childhood Obesity: Causes and Consequences.”

The “build my plate” is a resource the Early Learning Coalition is using to help parents balance their children’s plates and receive a variety of food and nutrients.

Gallagher said the coalition is working on accessibility within the community to prevent childhood obesity. She said they have to make sure that families have access to all the necessary resources to build their plates by offering helpful services.

Palm Beach County has several resources and programs to help families with childhood obesity. Families can reach out to the Early Learning Coalition to get information about these programs.

Gallagher encourages partnerships with other agencies for additional guidance and support for families. Physical activity and playing with children is a key way to promote lifelong health. Although Gallagher noted that families in the county are already doing a good job, additional tips and resources are always welcome.

By Hedda Jarhall

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