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      Midlands school fights childhood obesity with diet and exercise

      NORTHEAST COLUMBIA -- Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled in the past three decades.

      The growing issue in America is gaining national and local attention. For the first time, a consistent and direct message on the issue is coming from not only Capitol Hill, but communities nationwide.

      Children ranging from three- to five-years-old at Lake Carolina Early Learning Center in Northeast Columbia are participating in a weekly fitness program.

      We are working on cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, says Lori Ferguson, all of the things that they are going to want to use later in life.

      Fit Kid TMs by the Lake started last month at Lake Carolina. The half-hour class is led by personal trainer Lori Ferguson. She says it's just one step towards eliminating childhood obesity.

      Across the country, there are 25 million kids who are currently overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      I am staggered by the numbers, says chief resident Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford of Palmetto Health Children TMs Hospital.

      Those extra pounds put kids at greater risk for developing high blood pressure and type II diabetes.

      Recent studies have indicated if we can intervene between the ages of two- and five-years-old that is when we have the most success, Dr. Stanford adds.

      Weight gain and obesity occurs when a person eats more calories than the body burns.

      Exposing them early and often to healthy foods is a way to help them broaden their taste palate, says Matthew McNeal, owner of Lake Carolina Early Learning Center.

      Even before the fitness program was offered at Lake Carolina ELC, McNeal has always tried to help his students by providing low-calorie, high-energy lunches and snacks.

      A well-balanced diet and routine exercise are the most effective ways to prevent obesity. It's also recommended children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

      I also like for the parents to make those changes themselves. This is not an isolated effort, Dr. Stanford says.

      McNeal can't monitor what his students do when they leave school, but he TMs hopeful the lessons learned there will last a lifetime.

      Our vision of how this was supposed to work is already starting to come true, McNeal says.

      To learnn more about childhood obesity, click here.