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Updated Sep 2, 2014 - 2:52 pm

Arizona doctor urges community support in child obesity fight

Kids line up for a game of kickball during a program at Children's Medical Center aimed at helping overweight children get healthier. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PHOENIX -- A Valley doctor is urging the community to come together and fight child obesity, a rising health care epidemic in both Arizona and the United States.

"Obesity in children has now risen to epidemic proportions," said Dr. Donald McClellan, a pediatric endocrinologist with Phoenix Children's Hospital. "We need to get people to understand that it's everybody's problem."

People tend to blame an obese child on the parents -- some even on the pregnancy -- but McClellan said it takes a village to raise a child.

"We've got to make some decisions in the educational arena, which would include not only (physical education), but healthy lunches at schools," he said. "The easy foods to provide for schools lunches, like pizza, and all that aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they are less desirable when they're eaten every day."

Last year, Arizona was among the worst states for childhood obesity. A report said 19.8 percent of Arizona youth were obese, compared to a high of 21.7 percent in Mississippi and a low of 9.9 percent in Oregon.

The increase in Arizona youth obesity came as the national rate was declining, according to the 2011 National Survey of Children's Health, one of the sources on which the report is based. The survey said the U.S. rate fell from 16.4 percent in 2007 to 15.7 percent in 2011, while Arizona's rate grew from 17.8 percent to 19.8 percent in that time.

To help parents, McClellan recommended the 95210 program for elementary school kids.

"Nine is for nine hours of sleep, the five is for five servings of fruits or vegetables a day, two is for no more than two hours of screen time in a day, one hour of physical activity and then zero sugary drinks," he said.

Earlier this year, PCH announced it was throwing its weight into the fight against childhood obesity by opening a specialized clinic.

"The fight needs to happen on multiple grounds," Kristen Samaddar, a PCH pediatrician, said at the July announcement. "It's going to have to happen with better awareness by doctors about the problem, and knowing what resources we can provide, and what works and what doesn't work."

Obesity in children can severely impact their health while they are still developing, leading to a wide range of problems. A 2013 report said annual health costs for an obese child average nearly $6,800, compared to an average of $2,450 per child for all children.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

KTAR's Cooper Rummell and Cronkite News' Chad Garland contributed to this report.

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