New Yorkers need to throw their full weight into combating childhood obesity, an epidemic in Gotham, where cramped play areas and limited access to healthy foods are too often the norm, health experts said Tuesday.
“They’re apartment-bound and don’t have as much green space to go out and play as children in other areas,” said Lynn Silver, an assistant commissioner at the city health department.
The problem of childhood obesity gained new traction Tuesday as first lady Michelle Obama launched a national campaign — her largest initiative yet — to help kids slim down.
One in three children nationally are overweight or obese, leaving them more prone to such illnesses as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The situation is even more dire here, city officials said.
“This isn’t like a disease where we’re still waiting for the cure,” Obama said. “We have to act, so let’s move.”
New Yorkers on Tuesday shared Obama’s concerns.
Elle Shindler, 39, founded Kids Fitness NYC, a personal training service on the Upper East Side, when she realized that her children only had two hours a week for recess. “Two hours a week of giving them a ball and letting them run. It’s worthless,” she said.
Limited access to nutritious foods is another cause of obesity, experts said. Lower-income areas of the city, such as parts of the Bronx and Harlem, have higher rates of overweight or obese children.
“We’re in fast-food hell over here!” said Michelle Pyles, co-owner of The Little Gym in Harlem, one of the area’s few exercise facilities for children.
Also in lower-income areas, sometimes homes lack adequate refrigeration to keep food fresh, said Kate MacKenzie, a dietitian with City Harvest, which tracks city hunger stats.
The city is, however, leading the country in efforts to right the situation, the city health department pointed out, with initiatives such as replacing whole milk with 1 percent milk in school lunches and offering salad at high schools.
Combating childhood obesity begins with simple things, New Yorkers said.
Parents can promote exercise despite cramped apartments by jumping rope or climbing stairs with their children, Shindler said.
Children should take advantage of free breakfasts at public schools, in order to start the day right, MacKenzie said.
Planning ahead also helps, advised Idalia Ortiz, 30, of Harlem, who has a daughter. “I carry my food with me instead of letting her get distracted with McDonald’s,” she said.
Taneish Hamilton contributed to this story.