May 18, 2010

Conquering Childhood Obesity From Top Down, Ground Up

Listening to the Let’s Move press conference to release the first task force report, reinforced my observations that we’re moving full steam ahead to deal with and prevent childhood and adult overweight/obesity. Efforts are from the top down and the ground up.

From the Top Down: The Let’s Move effort appears to be the Federal government’s orchestra leader creating a symphony between all the related agencies and interested parties. Yes, when you stop to think, food and physical activity impact such a wide array of government agencies and activities, from the obvious USDA and FDA to the less obvious Dept of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and let's not forget the House and Senate. The list is nearly endless.

It's exciting to see the overarching goal of the Let’s Move campaign: to reduce by 2030 the current 20% overweight and obese children to a mere 5% and begin to bend the obesity curve NOW. The report cites the 5% level as the level which was expected in children prior to the beginning of the childhood obesity epidemic.

Obama talked about the five key “pillars” of the Let’s Move campaign which tell a lot about the effort’s directions:

  • Getting children a healthy start on life - that means from day one - in utero - because a healthy pregnancy in a healthy mother can lead to a lifetime of positive outcomes.
  • Empowering parents and care caregivers – to feed children healthfully, encourage healthy eating habits and continually support physically active lifestyles. Let’s Move will work to help parents translate science-based food and nutrition messages into simpler to understand, actionable messages.
  • Providing healthy foods in schools – this will come from changes in nutrition standards and regulations for foods served in schools meals and foods sold in schools as snacks and in vending machines.
  • Improving access to healthy, affordable food – helping to see areas in urban and rural America where there are “food deserts” (places with lack of access healthy foods at reasonable prices).
  • Getting children more physically active – at school, after school, in their communities and with their families and caregivers. And making sure the places where children are active are safe.

The First Lady also talked, and continually talks, about how the Federal government can’t accomplish all of these changes by revising, adding or deleting policies and setting up new programs. Resource constraints are just one key reason. She notes responsibility must trickle down to the states, cities and localities, and to the people at the helm – the child’s parents or guardians.

From the Ground Up: Nearly daily I hear about positive efforts to conquer childhood obesity from both near and far. They're initiatives implemented by elementary school principals to dramatically change the culture around food and physical activity, from celebrating a child’s birthday by calling them to the office to present a celebratory non-food gift (instead of cupcakes for the class), to integrating running and walking programs for students and teachers (their role models). An initiative National Farm to School Network connects schools (K-12) and local farms to serve healthy school meals while supporting local and regional farmers. In Northern Virginia there’s been a joint school and community effort underway for several years, Tipping the Scales building momentum and teaching opportunities around their creative 9-5-2-1-0 for Health message. The beauty of 9-5-2-1-0 for Health is that it works across age groups from young children to high schoolers and promoting five key factors for kids and families to live a healthy lifestyle with an easy to remember zip code/mantra.

The projects and efforts go on and on and seem to snowball everyday. Yes, we’re rolling in the right direction, both from the Top Down and the Ground Up!

PS: Again today…Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of major food companies respond to Let’s Move’s efforts by pledging to slash 1.5 trillion calories by the close of 2015. Just how they’ll accomplish this mission isn’t detailed.