Now Viewing: Childhood Obesity

Wouldn't It Be Great if Athletes Were Health Heroes?

Oct 10, 2013, 10:13 AM, Posted by Kathryn Thomas

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When I see top athletes hawking junk foods and sugary beverages, it makes me want to blow a whistle and call a foul. When men and women who are at the peak of their athletic prowess push products that do nothing to contribute to peak performance, our nation’s kids are getting the wrong messages.

A new study by the Rudd Center on Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows that the vast majority of foods and beverages touted by top athletes are unhealthy products, like sports drinks, soft drinks, and fast food. It also reveals that adolescents ages 12 to 17 see the most TV ads for foods endorsed by athletes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Rudd Foundation funded the study, which appears in the November edition of Pediatrics.

So what effect might this have on kids?

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Fighting Childhood Obesity by Design Thinking

Oct 9, 2013, 1:38 PM, Posted by Vanessa Farrell

A smiling student sitting in a classroom, eating an orange during snack time.

Gone are the days when the role of a designer was limited to boosting the aesthetic appeal of a product. Today, Design and design-thinking increasingly play integral roles in the research, development, and implementation of products, processes, services, and strategy. Design is becoming design thinking.

A quick Google search of the definition of design thinking states that “….it is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. It is the essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success.”

That’s the kind of thinking that is needed to successfully tackle childhood obesity prevention—a fundamental issue for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Our stated goal is to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S. by 2015, but we recognize that we can’t achieve this ambitious goal on our own. We need all hands on deck. As we explore potential partners in this effort, designers emerge as a key ally who have not been fully tapped.

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Leveraging the Power of Design and Design Thinking for Public Health

Oct 8, 2013, 10:00 AM, Posted by Matthew Trowbridge

AIGA UVA Design

It is increasingly clear that solutions for our most pressing and challenging public health issues will ultimately hinge on designing environments that encourage healthy behavior choices by making them more available, economical, and enjoyable.

Traditional public health approaches are not perfectly suited to this task. For example, epidemiological studies allow us to measure the association between environmental design features such as parks or sidewalks and walking behavior, but these experimental data are generally insufficient to be either actionable by decision-makers or effective in prompting behavior change. As Jeff Speck, urban planner and theorist, observes in his recent book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time:

The pedestrian is an extremely fragile species, the canary in the coal mine of urban livability. Under the right conditions, this creature thrives and multiplies. But creating those conditions requires attention to a broad range of criteria, some more easily satisfied than others.”

Public health must improve its ability to develop multi-dimensional interventions to more successfully provide environments and experiences that encourage positive health outcomes.  Put another way, public health must develop its capacity for design thinking.

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Childhood Obesity Is Everybody's Problem

Aug 9, 2013, 9:59 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Why? Because, aside from the deleterious impact on the health of kids individually, childhood obesity can have an adverse effect on “our economy, our health care system, and our future,” writes RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in a new blog post on the professional social networking site, LinkedIn.

So what can you do? Quite a bit, Lavizzo-Mourey concludes.

The rate of childhood obesity has been soaring for more than three decades. That has been cause for deep distress, and still is. All the same, she writes, there is new reason for hope, and it is to be found in the findings of an August 6 report by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

The report suggests that, for the first time, obesity rates dropped in 18 states and one U.S. territory in recent years for low-income children ages 2 to 4.

The report, while not cause for complacency, suggests that—although childhood obesity is still a major health concern—there are steps we can take to arrest and reverse the epidemic.

“The diverse group of states and communities with declines have instituted a wide range of programs to help families make healthy choices where they live, learn, play, and work—programs that can be adapted and scaled up by other regions,” Lavizzo-Mourey asserts. “All of these communities have one important thing in common—they have made childhood obesity prevention a priority.”

In 2007, the Foundation pledged $500 million to meet a goal of reversing the epidemic by 2015. “We know we can do it,” Lavizzo-Mourey writes, “but we can’t do it alone.”

Another Sign of Progress on Childhood Obesity

Aug 6, 2013, 2:00 PM, Posted by Jim Marks

 A young girl eating an apple.

Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that obesity rates among young children from low-income families are falling in 18 states and one U.S. territory—and rising in only three states. 

What an important sign of progress for all of us working to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic! It’s especially terrific because it builds on recent positive news coming from all across the nation.

Childhood obesity rates are falling in states like West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico and California. They’re dropping in big cities like New York and rural areas like Vance and Granville Counties, North Carolina.

Today’s news is of falling obesity rates among children participating in federal health and nutrition programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program, better known as WIC. These are young children in low-income families. Children who have been at the highest risk for obesity and whose families have had the most limited chances to make healthy choices. So this is huge.

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What’s With Our National Donut Worship?

Jun 18, 2013, 9:50 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe

Just last month the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation claimed significant progress in reaching their goal of removing 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. food marketplace. This month, a goodly portion of those calories may be back in play—thanks to the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe sandwich.

No, I am not making this up. The donut-shrouded sloppy joe is the proud creation of Chicken Charlie’s, food provider to county fairs in California. What’s more, it’s been written up in numerous media outlets, including Time magazine, which also provided the valuable service of informing its readers about Dunkin Donut’s entry into the lunch category, the doughnut bacon sandwich. Time has alerted America to the imminent arrival of the salty caramel pretzel donut as well. Gee, thanks.  

How discouraging that, despite the escalating obesity crisis in the U.S. among adults and, even more scarily, children, America seems to be obsessed with donuts. Or at least the media is. NBC’s Today show,  the BBC, and numerous other outlets have all done fawning features on a baked good hybrid that is evidently the must-have food item in New York City right now—the cronut, a hunk of dough that is a cross between a croissant and a donut. New Yorkers and tourists alike are standing in line for up to two hours to shell out $5 each. Limit, six to a customer. 

Now the cronut has competition from the sconut, a cross between a donut and a scone, discovered recently by intrepid reporters at Newsday and NPR.  In case donuts aren’t your thing, you can keep abreast of the news of the nationwide shortage of Speculoos, cookie butter sold by Trader Joe’s—a national crisis for sure.

None of this is news you can use.  Right now, 30.5 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese. The highest levels of obesity are found in low income and rural neighborhoods where fast food outlets selling donuts and the like are far more common than supermarkets.  I’d like to see some media coverage of some of the many efforts to combat obesity, not add to it, such as the Healthy Food Access Portal, the first comprehensive  web portal designed to help communities launch healthy food retail projects across the country. It was created by PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund with a grant from RWJF.

Or how about a story on some of the many community gardens where children are learning not only how to grow vegetables, but like them?  More articles like this, about the value of cooking at home, and some easy, affordable recipes, for families with little time to whip up gourmet meals, would also be nice.

In December the New York Times did a page one story about the first declines in the rates of childhood obesity in several cities, after decades of steady increases--the kind of media story it would be great to see more often. Hopefully we won’t see that progress fall to the wayside this summer because of this national celebration of all things donut-related.

New Brunswick Bike Exchange on a Roll

Jun 12, 2013, 1:04 PM, Posted by Jeff Meade

New Brunswick Bike Exchange Left to right: Marisa Rodriguez-McGill, Leighann Kimber, and Julio Garcia, PRAB director of operations

More than a dozen bicycles are stacked upright on a pair of racks in a sweltering New Brunswick warehouse. Most of the bikes are low-end Huffys and Schwinns, the kind of models you might pick up at a Walmart for under a hundred bucks, like a child’s powder blue two-wheeler, with scuffed white tires, banana seat, adorned with dog and kitty decals. One or two—like a sleek, sturdy Cannondale—are more expensive models, aimed at serious cyclists.

In too many cases, bikes like these would have been destined for the landfill. Not so these bicycles. They’re getting a second lease on life—chains cleaned and re-lubricated, bald or flat tires replaced, crooked handlebars re-aligned, here and there a spot of touch-up paint. Soon they’ll be sold, heavily discounted—as low as $10, as high as $120 for the high-end models—to residents who otherwise would be unable to afford this economical, healthful and fun mode of urban transportation.

The New Brunswick Bike Exchange is a nascent project of the non-profit organization PRAB (Puerto Rican Action Board), which is a partner of the Foundation’s statewide New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids program. The Partnership focuses on efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

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Avoid SNAP Judgments

May 22, 2013, 11:41 AM, Posted by Culture of Health Blog Team

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Almost 48 million Americans receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP, for short. This federal entitlement program helps low-income Americans purchase food for their families, and it encourages healthy eating habits.

Writing in the Huffington Post, RWJF Senior Vice President James S. Marks, MD, MPH, says SNAP's benefits to society are clear, in spite of arguments to the contrary. For every dollar spent on federal food aid, he says, benefits generate $1.72 in economic activity. Of course, SNAP principally helps families alleviate hunger, reap critical nutritional benefits, and combat the nationwide obesity epidemic.

Unfortunately, federal lawmakers are considering ways to take a bite out of SNAP. Two million people would lose food assistance, and more than 200,000 children would stop receiving free school meals under a version of the Farm Bill recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee, Marks asserts. A Senate bill would cut less, he adds, but the reduction in benefits and more stringent eligibility requirements would still be substantial, and damaging to the public's health.

"Fortunately, there is still an opportunity for Congress to chart a different course," Marks suggests. "As we strive for a full economic recovery and a healthier nation, supporting SNAP is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."

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