YMCA joins childhood obesity battle

The escalating campaign against childhood obesity gained a resourceful new ally this month when the national YMCA said it intends to become America's leading anti-obesity crusader. With a pervasive local presence and fitness facilities, YMCA branches will bring many welcome assets to the effort.

The challenge now is to link community agencies such as the Y and local schools with health care professionals who can help children and their families ward off obesity and curtail the accompanying chronic illnesses.

Childhood obesity is one of the most urgent and serious health threats confronting our nation. During the last four decades, obesity rates have soared nearly fivefold among children ages 6 to 11. More than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation warns, if our nation fails to reverse this ominous trend, we're in danger of raising the first generation of American children who will live sicker and die younger than the generation before them.

Prevention, promotion of healthy lifestyles and management of chronic disease have been second- class citizens under the health care finance system. The good news is that a survey released last fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the nation's schools have made considerable improvements in nutrition, fitness and health over the last six years.

More on the war on obesity