Skip Section Navigation


Published on September 10, 2015

Tide could be turning on childhood obesity in Clay County

By Mike Ford, Clay Today

Nationwide, there has been a drop in obesity rates among children ages two to five years old and locally, that information is mirrored by the most recent statistics.

Numbers from the Clay County Health Department show a two percent drop in childhood obesity since 2012, based on annual health screenings of children in first, third and sixth grades. While 16 percent of those children were overweight in 2012 and 2014, those who were obese went from 16 percent in 2012 to 14 percent last year. Though not dramatic, it may be the initial sign of a turning tide, which is exactly what pediatrician Deborah Weyer is after. Weyer’s practice is connected to St. Vincent’s Medical Center Clay County, which together have launched a program called Momentum based on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative.

Momentum won the grand prize in its category at the Jacksonville-based crowdfunding festival One Spark this year, resulting in a $15,000 prize. Weyer said the awareness the program and its mission received matter more than the money.

"We need to turn the tide with a shift in the culture. Parents are doing everything they can to raise their kids and put food on the table, but we need good healthy food and exercise," Weyer said. "Changing the culture takes time, but it has to happen in order for our kids to be healthy. Healthy kids become healthy adults who raise healthy kids. We have to turn the tide."

According to the health department, 36 percent of Floridians are overweight or obese. Preparedness Coordinator Leigh Wilsey of the county health department said the state’s Healthiest Weight Florida initiative consists of several programs and the local office is holding a 5K walk/run Sept. 26 at Vera Francis Park in Green Cove Springs to celebrate September as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. She said it isn’t a race, but is intended for families to come out and walk together simply to promote health and well-being.

"We want children to pick up healthy habits. In the general population, one-third of Florida’s population is overweight and children learn the behavior modeled by adults. So, if we have unhealthy adults, that will be reflected in children," Wilsey said.

Recommending that people of all ages avoid high fructose corn syrup and white refined sugar, Weyer said the obesity rate started picking up in the 1980s when soda machines were installed in schools. She said the trend continued through the 1990s and, in recent years, budget cuts slashed gym class from schools across the country. This resulted in diseases that were once relegated to the nation’s aged population being diagnosed in children. "We’re going to have a major health crisis with significantly higher numbers of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and joint disease. From both a health and financial standpoint, this will be a substantial burden that will bring individual suffering. These diseases used to relate to old age, but I’m seeing them in children," Weyer said.

Momentum was piloted last year at Wilkinson Junior High School and is being expanded to Orange Park Junior High School. It’s for kids ages 9-14 with supervised free play after school under the watchful eyes of student coaches from area colleges.

For more information, visit and for programs and classes at the health department, visit

Pediatrician Deborah Weyer started an after school free play program called Momentum. Weyer and Program Coordinator Katie Cannon is being used at two schools in Clay County this year in effort to keep kids moving and healthy.

View the story: