Childhood obesity threatens the health and future productivity of the nation and nowhere is the crisis more urgent than in low-income communities and communities of color.
For example, 43 percent of Mexican American children and 39 percent of African American children are overweight or obese, compared with 33 percent of White children. The long-term consequences include increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis, stroke, sleep disorders, and hypertension. An estimated 300,000 deaths a year may be attributable to obesity. An overweight adolescent has a 70 to 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.
Without concerted efforts to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, today’s generation of young people may be the first in modern history to live sicker and die younger than their parents.
Authentic community engagement is a cornerstone of action to address this crisis. Although diet and physical activity habits are matters of personal choice, those choices are influenced—and in too many places, limited—by environmental factors. People of color and low-income people have the fewest opportunities to meet official guidelines for physical activity and healthy eating. However, even in communities that lack access to health-promoting resources, community residents have the best understanding of the barriers to healthy living in their neighborhoods, as well as the assets that can be built upon to create healthy communities. Engaging communities in the policy and environmental change process is a prerequisite for creating and implementing policies that are equitable, meaningful, and enduring.