Zionsville Middle School is one of six Indiana groups to receive a grant to help battle childhood obesity.

The $250 grant to ZMS is being offered by UnitedHealth Group, a national health insurance company, through its HEROES program in collaboration with Youth Service America.

ZMS will use the grant to promote healthy eating habits among youth surrounding the Z’Run 5K Walk/Run and Health Fair on April 24.

Childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions, with one in three children obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit organization, put the number of overweight or obese children in Indiana in 2009 at between 25 and 30 percent.

Lloyd Kolbe, an Indiana University professor and founding director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the CDC, said Indiana has improved in recent years.

“That’s due to the great efforts of Gov. Daniels and former health commissioner Judy Monroe,” he said. “The governor has held a health summit (INShape Indiana) every year since 2005. I think Indiana is moving forward instead of backward.”

Despite that, Kolbe still believes it’s a problem.

Indiana ranked 15th in the country in obesity rates in 2008, according to the latest numbers from the CDC.

Weight issues can lead to lifelong health conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Kolbe said a recent study suggested that 30 to 35 percent of all children born in 2010 will develop Type 2 diabetes.

If habits don’t change soon, Kolbe said this generation of children could provide a first that no one wants.

“Unless this epidemic turns around rapidly, the generation that is in schools today will be the first in the history of our nation, and many other nations, that will die younger and live in poorer health than their parents,” he said.

Kolbe said parents need to ensure the proper diet for their children.

Boone County is ranked fourth out of 92 Indiana counties in overall health, according to CountyHealthRankings.com. Kolbe noted that 83 percent of Boone County residents have access to healthy foods, well over the state average of 38 percent.

He also put some responsibility on schools to provide nutritional offerings.

Jan Swander, ZCS food service director, said they are required to meet certain dietary requirements, since ZCS participates in the National School Lunch Program, but they also have to offer foods the customers want to eat.

“The many planning items they (NSLP) provide, the expectation is it provides a certain percentage of dietary requirements,” she said. “There are menu planning options, and we hope they are options that kids actually enjoy.”

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