According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in 2000, no state had a prevalence of obesity “equal to or greater than 25%”; by 2010, no state had less than 20%. West Virginia is ranked among the 12 states to have an obesity rate of greater than 25%. The “obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled” since 1980, with approximately “17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 -19 years” being obese. These staggering statistics are a horrifying truth for today’s youth.
Much is to blame for these statistics, including a lack of awareness, lack of physical activity with youth today, and poor nutrition. However, in Jefferson County, WV, a movement has started to fight back against this epidemic engulfing the state, especially among youth. Four years ago, local doctor and community organizer Mark Cucuzzella started a series of race events called Freedom’s Run. The purpose is to encourage families and organizations in the community to get out and exercise and give back to the place they live. Additionally, it promotes healthy living and the cultural heritage of this beautiful county. However, his main focus has been in raising awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic.
The Outdoor Education Center of FLOC is at the center of this movement with Dr. Mark. Over the past two years the OEC has partnered with Freedom’s Run to host a wildly successful half marathon in the county and now has partnered with the JeffersonCountyParks and Recreation Commission to put on “The Halloweeney Wee Warrior Dash” this past weekend. The “Wee Warrior Dash” was a one mile youth challenge course with obstacles such as foot crawls, hay bale hurdlers, and tire runs. This race is focused on youth, and the obstacles were designed for them. The hope was to get families together, get them up and moving and active in their community. Youth not only got to have fun with their friends participating in the race, but also got to show off their Halloween costumes with an opportunity to win prizes at the end of the event. The purpose of these races is not to get every individual into running, necessarily, but to see the enjoyment of being active and having fun with their families in the community. The fight against childhood obesity still continues, but with approximately 200 youth running this race, it has a strong challenger. (Information from www.cdc.gov).
(Director of the Outdoor Education Center Todd McKinney and OEC Administrative/Program Coordinator Katie Nolan collaborated on this blog post).