childhood obesity

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Coaching Program Makes Exercise Fun For Kids

By Lyssa Mudd Rome

Todd Whitehead has become a mentor figure in addition to helping kids have fun while exercising. (Photo: Coaching Corps)

On a recent afternoon at BAHIA, a bilingual after school program in Berkeley, a small group of elementary school kids ran around breathlessly. They were playing “wolves and bunnies,” a tag game that takes some of its rules from basketball. Their coach Todd Whitehead played along, occasionally giving directions and stretching his hand out for a high-five. “Todd makes basketball seem fun,” said nine-year-old Kaydie. But this is about more than having fun. It’s a way for these kids to get the exercise they need.

Whitehead is a post-doctoral scholar in public health at U.C. Berkeley who has been coaching at BAHIA for three years. “My main goal,” he says, “is for the kids to have fun, get healthy, and get exposed to activities that will keep them healthy as they grow up.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children get at least an hour of physical activity a day. But for many kids, that isn’t happening. Budget cuts in California have meant there often isn’t enough money for schools to offer PE or include sports in their after school programs. On top of that, low-income neighborhoods frequently lack parks or other safe places to play. Organized sports activities are limited.

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Another Consequence of Childhood Obesity: Poor Math Performance

By Joanne Lin, California Watch

(Kim Tyo-Dickerson: Flickr)

(Kim Tyo-Dickerson: Flickr)

Obese children face risks to their emotional and social well-being that can harm their academic performance, new research suggests.

The study, published today in the journal Child Development, found obese elementary school children performed worse on math tests than their peers without weight problems.

A lack of social acceptance could account for the lower test scores, researchers said. Obese children who do not feel accepted by their peers often exhibit feelings of loneliness, sadness and anxiety that can hinder their academic performance.

Those feelings became even more apparent as the children progressed through school, according to the study.

“Children who have weight problems are not as well-received by their peers. That creates a condition or situation where developing social skills isn’t as easy,” said Sara Gable, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Continue reading

The Greatest Health Risk to Children? No, It’s Not Drugs

(Ian Britton: Flickr)

People polled cited unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle as greatest threat to children's health. (Ian Britton: Flickr)

Nearly half of people surveyed in a poll released today say an unhealthy diet combined with lack of physical activity are the greatest health risks facing California children today.

In addition, almost three in four respondents to the Field Poll — 73 percent — said prevention efforts, while starting with the family, must extend to the broader community, including health care providers, schools, community organizations and beyond — to food and beverage companies and fast food restaurants.

“Voters acknowledge they have a role to play,” Mark DeCamillo, Director of The Field Poll told me. “They should be involving the larger community and lots of different entities, companies included should be taking some responsibility in reducing obesity in kids.

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered California voters and was funded by The California Endowment. (The California Endowment is a supporter of KQED). Respondents across political parties, ethnic backgrounds and household incomes all agreed a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are the major health risks to children. Illegal drug use was a distant second at 22 percent.

More than half of respondents (60 percent) said that the neighborhood where a child is raised makes a difference in their health. A strong majority (68 percent) said a comprehensive program to prevent childhood obesity — including building parks and promoting neighborhood safety — would be worth it, even if it cost billions of dollars.

“Californians understand that health happens in schools, in neighborhoods, and with prevention,” said Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, said in a statement. “Regardless of age, ethnicity, income or political ideology, they recognize that investments in prevention save money over the long run.”

Support for “soda tax” Continue reading

Are Poor Neighborhoods Really Food Deserts?

(John Henry Mostyn: Flickr)

(John Henry Mostyn: Flickr)

Proponents of public health have long worried about “food deserts”– but it took First Lady Michelle Obama to put the expression on the map when she launched her “Let’s Move” campaign. A food desert brings to mind an impoverished neighborhood where the main streets are lined with fast-food outlets or convenience stores with nary a full-scale supermarket to be found. “Lack of access contributes to poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. But, this is a solvable problem,” it says on the Let’s Move website.

And to solve the problem the Administration has pledged to end food deserts within seven years by helping communities invest in healthier food outlets.

“I never bought into the ‘supermarkets make you thinner’ story.”
It sounds laudable, but new research finds that food deserts may not be so barren after all. Helen Lee at the Public Policy Institute of California, set out to look at food deserts, expecting to find that they were the widespread problem they’ve been reported to be. Instead she found something very different.

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Obesity Epidemic May Be Leveling Off

(Malingering: Flickr)

(Malingering: Flickr)

For the first time since the numbers were crunched in 1980, the U.S. obesity epidemic seems to have reached a plateau. Americans got heavier and heavier through the 1980s and 1990s, but starting in the early 2000s, the steep increases seemed to slow.

Two studies, one in adults and one in children, were published online today by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009-2010. They found no change from the prior survey, the second period of no change in the last 10 years.

Pat Crawford, Director of the Center for Weight and Health at U.C. Berkeley called the studies “cautious good news. … I am thrilled with the plateauing and I am encouraged. I think the biggest risk is that people relax and think we don’t have an obesity issue any more.” Today about one-third of American men and women, and about one in six children and teens are obese. Continue reading

Grim Ads on Childhood Obesity: Informative or Stigmatizing?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a grim advertising campaign, produced by a major pediatric healthcare facility, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, has provoked strong reactions. “But the pediatric health system stands firmly by its approach,” the Journal-Constitution reports, “saying the grim advertisements featuring overweight kids are necessary to get families to recognize the widespread public health problem.”

More from the Journal-Constitution:

Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

Children’s Healthcare decided on the approach after finding in research that 50 percent of people surveyed did not recognize childhood obesity as a problem and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese kids did not see their children as having a weight issue. Across Georgia, which ranks second nationally for childhood obesity, about 1 million children are overweight or obese, according to data compiled by the campaign.

“We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem,’ ” said Linda Matzigkeit, a senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare, who leads the system’s wellness projects.

The campaign — called Strong4Life — is planned as a $50 million project to be rolled out over five years. Children’s Healthcare has committed to paying half the costs while seeking donations to cover the rest. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation recently kicked in $95,000 to support the campaign.

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Fighting Childhood Obesity: It Takes a Village

By Sarah Varney

Editor’s note: KQED’s Sarah Varney first reported this story for NPR’s Morning Edition and its Shots blog on November 28. You can listen to her story here.

With more and more children in the U.S. becoming overweight, many parents are wondering how to talk to their children about weight. The Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program for families is remarkably straightforward and successful.

One of the goals of the program is to gradually reduce the amount of junk food kids eat, so it doesn't feel like a big change. (TheFoodJunk: Flickr)

One of the goals of the program is to gradually reduce the amount of junk food kids eat, so it doesn't feel like a big change. (TheFoodJunk: Flickr)

After a long day of school or work, a group of families gather in a Stanford Hospital classroom in Menlo Park, Calif. The children are all in the highest percentile for body mass index, or BMI. They’ve signed up with their parents, often at the urging of a pediatrician, for a six-month healthy eating and exercise boot camp.

Gabriel Rodriguez, an 11-year-old, sparkly-eyed, self-confessed burrito lover, graduated from the program a few months ago. He’s at the meeting with his mom, Gloria Arteaga, for their monthly check-in with their health coach, Thea Runyan.

They meet every month to measure Gabriel’s weight and height and talk about how well he’s sticking to his exercise and healthy eating goals.

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Is L.A. Schools’ Healthy Lunch Program Really a Flop?

Reports are that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

Reports say that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

The Los Angeles Times featured a lengthy piece last weekend on L.A. Unified School District‘s apparent failure in its new much-touted school lunch program, overhauled to be more healthful.

Early in the school year, the Times reports, L.A. Unified “got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium.” With roughly 30 percent of school age children now overweight or obese, striking such unhealthy food from school lunches seems like a good place to start to coax kids to eat a healthier diet.

But the Times claims the change has been a “flop” for many students. Stories of a black-market for junk food on certain campuses are reported, including kids sneaking in “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos” and soda.  And the school lunches themselves?

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Could Richmond Be First California City to Tax Soda?

Price going up? (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

Price going up? (Karen Blumberg: Flickr)

Last night the Richmond City Council voted to let the people decide. The Council instructed staff to prepare a ballot measure for next November to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, what most people call a “soda tax.”

Richmond voters may have the chance to make their city the first in California, and one of the first in the country, to slap a special tax not just on sodas, but also sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit-flavored drinks and the like. 100 percent fruit juice and diet drinks would not be affected.

The goals are twofold. If the drinks cost more, people will drink fewer of them. Plus, taxes generate revenue, which the City Council says it would devote to new sports fields and other health programs. The motivation for the tax is childhood obesity. Wendel Brunner, Public Health Director of the Contra Costa Health Department walked people through the makings of what has become an epidemic.

  • 32 percent of school children in Richmond are obese
  • 24 percent of adults in Richmond are obese
  • 11 percent of all deaths in Richmond are linked to obesity–obesity is shortening people’s lives by years
And, if childhood obesity goes unchecked in Richmond, Contra Costa Health researchers found, the percentage of obese adults will almost double from the current 24 percent to 42 percent. 
“The thing about sugar-sweetened beverages is that the calories are insidious.”
So, what’s the connection to sugar-sweetened beverages? It comes from Brunner’s most jaw-dropping number: the average Richmond teenager who drinks sugary beverages every day consumes a whopping 150,000 calories a year–just from these sweetened drinks. That adds up to 20-30 pounds of additional weight over the year. As Brunner reported, it’s those sweet drinks that are driving the obesity epidemic. “The thing about sugar-sweetened beverages is that the calories are insidious,” he says, “so you consume a Big Gulp, you don’t realize that you’ve drunk about 350 calories.” Continue reading

Bay Area Kids Get a Little Fatter … Except in San Mateo County

Woman's feet on scale.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Health advocates heaved a sign of relief this month over a new report showing that the obesity epidemic may be leveling off. In the past five years, the percentage of overweight and obese kids in California dropped by one percent. Not a screaming success, but a lot better than the gains seen since the 80s … or even in the past decade. The rate of overweight kids in California increased by six percent between 2001 to 2004 alone.

Some individual counties saw drops in obesity levels while others, like Del Norte County, saw massive increases. The report, aptly named “A Patchwork of Progress,” reflects on these discrepancies. The Bay Area itself is somewhat of a patchwork, too. In nearly all Bay counties, childhood obesity rates are on the rise. The single exception was San Mateo county, which saw 5.6 percent decrease.

So why are San Mateo County kids getting thinner while the rest of the Bay is getting fatter?

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