Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Understanding the Childhood Obesity Epidemic Part II: Wide-Scale Solutions

Last week, CHG posted the first of a three-part series on our overweight kids, examining the causes and effects of America’s growing youth. Today, it’s all about the solutions, both on a mass and personal scale. We know some are already working, since according to Time Magazine, “for the first time in decades the increase in U.S. childhood obesity leveled off [in May].” And with more of these ideas implemented, it can only get better.

Right now, we’ll examine the larger-scale solutions. The personal ones are coming later this afternoon. As with Part 1, if anyone has suggestions or comments, please pass ‘em along. I’d love to read/add.


1) Philanthropic initiatives
Of all the articles I read, the one organization mentioned most often was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A New Jersey-based agency specializing in health issues, it’s “pledged $500 million over five years to fight the epidemic, with the aim of halting the rise of childhood obesity by 2012.” RWJ has a number of different agendas like the Healthy Schools Program, which are designed to provide support and education at a community and personal level. And it’s not alone, either. Food Trust of Philadelphia and the HSC Foundation in Washington DC are just two more of the myriad organizations aiming to halt the epidemic.

2) Local government and community initiatives
While the feds have pretty much dropped the ball on the obesity issue, local governments are picking up the slack. To wit: governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and Conan the Barbarian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) of California have all kicked off pro-fitness, anti-junk food campaigns. Municipal governments are creating and funding city and community-based programs by the hundreds. One health advocate even estimates, there are “700 programs targeting obesity and similar healthy lifestyle issues” in the Washington DC area alone. Finally, “from churches and community centers to Scout troops, organizations large and small are trying to again get children moving or to teach them about better eating.” If Obama/McCain/whoever gets on board with nationwide legislation, farm bill revision, and an overhaul of the USDA, we could make even more progress.

3) School initiatives
While schools are generally under the jurisdiction of state and local governments (several of which are banning sales of soda and high-sugar snacks), the districts themselves do exert some power. Schools across the nation are offering healthier choices for lower prices, marketing produce in smarter ways, rejecting funding from junk food companies, retraining their kitchen staffs, upping their physical fitness requirements, teaching kids to cook, and mandating that health reports be sent home to parents. The Arkansas school system has been particularly effective with their health initiatives, as “72 percent of students increased physical activity” and “61% [of schools] have policies prohibiting junk foods in vending machines, up from just 18 percent in 2004.”

4) Industry & advertising initiatives
“Motivated by the triple threat of bad publicity, tougher regulation and costly lawsuits, some of the country's biggest food companies have curtailed child-targeted advertising of certain high-calorie products,” says The Washington Post. This is good news. Since the FTC and FCC generally don’t curb the advertising of junk food to minors, self-regulation by the businesses themselves is responsible and absolutely necessary for kids’ health. Even better, a slew of manufacturers and chain restaurants are revamping their product lines and menus to give children more nutritious choices. Again, as reported by the WP, they're “emphasizing baked versions of old fried favorites.Or reformulating the foodstuffs, reducing sodium in some varieties of Lunchables and lowering sugar and fat in cereals such as Spider-Man 3.” While it’s not exactly fruit and vegetables, it’s a start.

Stay tuned, folks. Part III: Small-Scale Solutions (and a bibliography) is coming this afternoon.

(Photos courtesy of, AQMD, and

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Milehimama said...

I think pouring some sidewalks in neighborhoods might help.

Also, bring back the old fashioned crossing guards all along the way to school, and make sure it is safe! I lived in Denver, and there were more than 10 registered sex offenders living within half a mile of the elementary school my children would have attended. I NEVER would let them play outside alone or go to the park or walk to the school. NEVER!

I have never seen child safety addressed in relation to child obesity/"go out and play" campaigns.

Milehimama said...

And, just a random comment, when we had to go to the Health Department for some vaccination business, there were TWO coke machines and a candybar vending machine in the waiting room.

No wonder we're not healthy!

Kris said...

Milehi, that's a great point about the safety issues. In the articles, a lot of urban moms were really hesitant to let their kids go to the playgrounds that were available to them. "Parents say they'd rather have a fat kid than a dead kid" is a direct quote.

Also - way to go, Health Department. Oy vey.

Donna said...

This is a smaller scale solution, which I'm guessing is going to be what the next installment is about.

Summer gardeners who grow too much should always donate their extra produce to local food charities before giving some away to their neighbors. This accomplishes two main things... it provides healthier food to low income families, who tend to rely more on cheaper processed foods, and it can get the growers tax deductions for the value of the produce, which can offset the costs of gardening.

nyjlm said...

The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report "Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries" states that
"We found that a history of breastfeeding was associated with a reduction in the risk of ..snip...obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes...snip."

This fits into both wide-scale and small-scale solutions. For the individual mother and child, breastfeeding is cheap, healthy, and good. On a larger scale, what is particularly needed in America is a good support system for women. Women often need help in the early days (breastfeeding is natural but both when mom and babe haven't done it before it is still a new skill. even with subsequent babies a mom can need some assistance getting into the groove with her new nursing partner) in the form of skilled breastfeeding helpers. There are a lot of mixed messages from drs and other health care professionals who sadly are not educated on what is normal for a bf baby. Moms need support from their families- partner support is a huge marker for success in breastfeeding. Mothers need support in the workplace. We need parental leave, like almost all other developed nations offer.
I know that a lot of what I'm saying here goes way beyond the scope of your blog : ) but I do believe that a lifetime of health can start with breastfeeding (disclaimer: breastfeeding is not a guarantee that your child won't become obese, have diabetes or asthma, or other things.)