Tackling Childhood Obesity: Vision and Guiding Principles

“Overweight and obesity must be approached as preventable and treatable problems with realistic and exciting opportunities to improve health and save lives.” – Surgeon General of the United States (1)

Keep sight of your Vision: What do you hope to accomplish?

  • Stop the epidemic: More children can and should grow up healthy and free of the burdens of overweight and obesity – particularly those children from poor, minority, or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Spread the understanding: Every community member can and should realize the serious consequences of childhood obesity. Collective awareness will shift social norms and engage all sectors in the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity.
  • Reach out to kids: Parents, teachers, counselors, and peers can and should ease the burdens of poverty, discrimination, loneliness, low self-esteem, and depression on youth, by strengthening child support networks and increasing positive and healthy interactions with at-risk children and adolescents.
  • Detoxify the environment: Community members can and should work together to translate public health research results into science-based programs and policies – and use these tools to change the “toxic” environments driving the obesity epidemic.

Use these Healthy People 2010 goals to set specific and measurable objectives: Don't bite off more than you can chew

  • Goal #1: Increase daily physical activity among children and adolescents.
  • Goal #2: Reduce the amount of time kids spend watching television, video games, and the Internet.
  • Goal #3: Decrease the consumption of energy-dense, high-sugar/high-fat foods like soda, ice cream, junk food, and fast food.
  • Goal #4: Increase the consumption of nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and skim milk.
  • Goal #5: Create social, monetary, and policy-driven incentives that reinforce long-term environmental and behavioral change.

Things to remember: Guiding principles in public health and obesity interventions (2,3)

  • Fundamentals
    • Comprehensive approach: Improve the health and well-being of all children by preventing childhood obesity and addressing the unique physical, behavioral, psychological, and socioeconomic factors that affect children's health. Take care not to isolate or ostracize overweight children, and emphasize the importance of healthy habits over cosmetic appearance.
    • Cooperation: Promote collaboration within and among the different sectors of society, including education, environment, industry, media, government, and public and private health care. Form and maintain strategic alliances among children, families, schools, local businesses, hospitals, community organizations, government agencies, and policymakers.
    • Grass roots: Encourage children, teens, and families to actively participate in the policymaking process and in program planning, implementation, and evaluation. Within the sphere of healthcare, educate and empower families to recognize the impact they have on their children's development.
  • Program and policy development
    • Community mapping: Measure community statistics and trends; identify priority risk groups; map available resources; avoid overlap with existing programs; look for gaps in local services; and identify possibilities for collaboration.
    • Research base: Base program and policy development on rigorous scientific research and local resource/needs assessment.
    • Sensitivity: Design strategies that address the unique needs of specific age, gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups.
    • Diversity: Design interventions that address both diet and physical activity, and combine multiple intervention approaches, such as educational/informational, social/behavioral, and environmental programs and policies. For example, link public media campaigns with policy initiatives and family- and school-oriented programs.
  • Implementation
    • Be practical: Set concrete, realistic goals and objectives.
    • Shared accountability: Hold leaders responsible for putting intervention plans into practice and improving children's health. Assign specific recommendations and strategies to each participating organization or agency; set a tentative timeline for action; and design a simple system to monitor progress.
    • Community: Actively involve all members of the community instead of singling out individual children, parents, or social groups.
  • Evaluation
    • Measurable outcomes: Design intervention plans with measurable outcomes, which can be used to evaluate progress and effectiveness and modify plans if necessary.
    • Feedback: Solicit and analyze continuous feedback from parents and other community members, and grant public access to the results.
  • Sustainability
    • Don't give up: Maintain and integrate interventions over time and create new initiatives that build upon existing resources, services, and multi-sector partnerships.
    • Cost-effectiveness: Strive for cost-efficient plans that can be operated under realistic budgets.

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References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001).   The Surgeon General's call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. [Rockville, MD]: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General.  Available from: US GPO, Washington. [WWW document] www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/ obesity/calltoaction/CalltoAction.pdf (Viewed 17 June, 2003).
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2003). National Agenda for Public Health Action: The National Public Health Initiative on Diabetes and Women's Health. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics (2003 August). Policy statement: Prevention of pediatric overweight and obesity. Pediatrics, 112 (2), 424-430. [WWW document] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/ cgi/content/full/112/2/424 (Viewed 4 August, 2003).