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Get Fit - Preventing Childhood Obesity Through Innovative Ideas

Highlighting innovative "outside the box" ideas, programs, research and products addressing the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stop the Insanity! One Year Later And Nothing Has Really Changed

In its fourth report on obesity in the United States, the Trust for America's Health finds that the obesity epidemic continues unabated and calls for a comprehensive approach to help individuals make healthy choices - Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

Unfortunately this report (F as in FAT) does not come as a surprise to me and my partners - and the saddest thing about this report is that the findings are so very predictable. There ARE programs that can make a long term sustainable difference in the fight against obesity, but FAR TOO MANY organizations would prefer to continue throwing unimaginable dollars at researching the cause and effect of obesity, rather than steer those dollars into developing innovative and effective solutions. I wrote about this issue in my very first blog (Childhood Obesity - Who's Going To Step Up To The Plate?) and the Trust for America's Health only proves what we've been saying for some time now. Many of the organizations and individuals who have the funds to make a difference are not willing to take risks on innovative and potentially groundbreaking ideas. It's a lot easier (and safer) to continue to research the cause and effect of obesity than to actually take risks on programs and ideas that could/would have a positive and sustainable impact on the problem. That kind of strategy would require these organizations to step way outside their comfort zone and live for a while on the edge - the incubator of great innovation! Until that happens, you might as well change the date on this year's report and reprint it again next year - nothing will have changed other than the amount of funds contributed to researching what we already know - that obesity is a real health threat, it's getting worse, and it needs to be stopped.

But wait! There is hope. I am convinced that those of us willing to go it alone and live on the edge everyday will play a significant role in the solution to the obesity epidemic. We are the innovators, the risk takers, the visionaries committed to making a real and sustainable difference in the lives of those who need it. Personally, my partners and I have have much invested in the success or failure of our creation (Get Fit FOCUS) and we are committed and motivated to build the most effective and sustainable program possible. Perhaps with a little luck, one or more of these organizations will find their way to join us somewhere near the edge. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but I won't be holding my breath. Let's hope I won't have to keep my fingers crossed too long.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Monday, August 20, 2007

Early Intervention Is Key To Addressing Childhood Obesity

Just last week another study was published confirming and supporting the mission upon which we are building our Get Fit FOCUS program - that early intervention is the key to addressing the growing childhood obesity epidemic. A few weeks ago I posted a preview of our Get Fit FOCUS program and talked about the critical importance of empowering young people (using mediums relevant to their lifestyles) with the knowledge and tools to independently make positive and healthy lifestyle choices. Our program was already founded on hard science, but just last week a group of Finnish researchers published a study that further supports the importance of what we are building and the impact it could have on curbing the incidence of childhood obesity and related diseases.

According to a study which was published in the online edition of the journal Circulation, children who were taught healthy eating habits at an early age maintained their healthy habits well into adolescence. The researchers followed 1,062 children from ages 7 months to 14 years with an intervention group consisting of 540 children (and their families) and a control group of 522. The intervention group was provided with education and counseling to help them prepare and consume a healthier diet, while the control group was given no assistance whatsoever. Not surprisingly, the intervention group at the age of 14 was healthier than the control group - especially the boys. In an Associated Press article reporting the findings of the study done at the University of Turku in Finland, Dr. Harri Niinikoski was quoted as saying "We think that this lifestyle change can be started early." That sentiment is support by several other professionals throughout the article.

That's why we have created Get Fit FOCUS - an innovative and revolutionary health education experience for elementary and middle school students, their educators and families. Using highly interactive and content rich features built on web 2.0 technology, Get Fit FOCUS is a fluid, highly collaborative and participatory educational program designed to empower young people with the tools and resources needed to make good healthy lifestyle choices at a very early age. Using mediums relevant to the lifestyles of young people (social networking, collaboration, sharing, wikis, blogging, lifestyle coaches, and numerous other web 2.0 tools) Get Fit FOCUS creates a powerful and relevant learning environment for students and teachers. It also allows students and teachers to share their learning experience with family members, friends and other classrooms throughout the US and the world. We're making some serious progress with our development site and plan to beta test Get Fit FOCUS in several school districts this fall (with an anticipated full market release in the Spring of 2008). It will truly revolutionize the way health education is taught (and shared) in schools throughout the country! As promised, I'll keep you updated on the ongoing development of this very exciting early intervention tool!

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Amazing Discovery or Common Sense Marketing?

This week Discovery Kids Network announced that it will no longer license its name and characters to companies promoting unhealthy foods. This comes on the heels of a recent announcement by Kellogg's to stop advertising unhealthy products to kids altogether, and the Public Service Campaign snafu by the US Department of Health and Human Services. In case you missed it, officials at the US Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with the Ad Council and DreamWorks Animation, featured the Shrek character in several Public Service Announcements while the character was also used to promote numerous fast foods, sugary cereals, cookies and candy - products frequently associated with childhood obesity. Oops! Read about the controversy here.

However, it may very well be this incident that has prompted the Discovery Kids Network to publicly announce their decision to restrict the licensing of their characters. It’s a smart business decision based on solid common sense by those in charge. That’s not to say I’m against companies using the images of animated characters and role models to promote products (I’ve written about this before), but I do believe that doing so must be in total harmony with your company's core values. In this case, Discovery Kids is all about expanding the knowledge of young people at an age when they can be easily influenced. So, controlling the potentially negative influences one of their characters could have by being associated with an unhealthy product – is absolutely the right (and smart) thing to do. Kudos to Discovery Kids and their parent company Discovery Communications for using good common sense (and smart marketing) in determining how their characters can be licensed in the future. Now we just need the other kid network companies to follow the lead of Discovery Kids!

UPDATE (August 24, 2007): Nickelodeon has followed Discovery Kid's lead and announced new licensing guidelines for their characters. You can read about it here.

In good health,

Phil Christian

LifeStyle Media Group

Monday, August 13, 2007

School Absenteeism Higher For Obese Kids

According to a study just released, obese students have a higher absenteeism rate than their slimmer classmates
- which researchers contend can lead to a plethora of additional problems as they get older. Of the 1,069 fourth through sixth grade students that participated in the research program, obese children missed approximately 20% more school than their normal weight peers. The study was conducted by Andrew B. Geier, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. "At this early age to show that already they're missing school, and missing school is such a major setup for big-time problems, that's something school policy people have to know," Geier said.

Researchers believe weight problems at this age are more of a psychological/esteem issue than a health issue. "At this young age, children are not necessarily experiencing the health problems that will likely confront them later in life unless serious intervention takes place," said Geier. "However, they are missing school at a greater rate than their peers, setting themselves up for the negative fallout that accompanies absenteeism. What's keeping them from school, more than heath issues, is the stigma and the bullying that accompanies being overweight. Future research should explore this additional, very damaging side effect of being overweight." Geier suggests these side effects could include poor grades, becoming unhealthy and developing obesity related diseases, not finishing school and even engaging in risky behavior that could lead to pregnancy, AIDS and other STD's.

To learn more about this study, click here.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Your Friends and Family May Be Making You Fat!

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of California at San Diego recently published results from a study that effectively concluded that obesity can spread from person to person like a common cold or fashion fad - thus providing another explanation for the cause and continued growth of obesity in our society. The study followed 12,000 people over a 32 year period and found that "social networks" have a significant role in determining an individual's chances of gaining weight. In fact, researchers found that a person was 40% more likely to become obese if they had an obese sibling and 37% more likely if they had an obese spouse. But the news didn't end there. Perhaps the most startling finding was that a person was 57% more likely to become obese if a casual friend became obese, but was 170% more likely to become obese if a very close friend became obese.

"We were stunned to find that people who are hundreds of miles away have just as much impact on a person's weight status as friends who are right next door," said James Fowler, a Sociologist from the University of California and one of the study's authors . "And so what this suggests is that it's not the case that this causal relationship is due to people eating together or exercising together. Rather, it has to do with them sharing ideas about what healthy behavior is like."

So remarkable are the findings of this study, that it's being reported it may lead to the creation of a new field called "network medicine," and perhaps a whole new way of thinking about executing weight loss and prevention programs - even for overweight or at risk children. You can read the Washington Post article here and the study here.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Food Fight Band Wagon and Questionable Spending

Last week, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled "Watching Food Ads on TV May Program Kids to Overeat," which was a brief overview of a study conducted by researchers in Liverpool, England. The results of this study should surprise no one, but it is sure to fuel the debate about advertising unhealthy foods to young people.

In a nutshell, the study found that children between the ages of 5 and 11 ate more calories after watching a television advertisement for food, than they did watching advertisements of non-food items. The 5-to-7 year olds ate 14% - 17% more calories and the 9-to-11 year olds ate 84% to 134% more. Additionally, the study found that the older age group was more likely to eat sugary and high-fat foods as part of their increased calorie intake. All this to suggest that kids eating habits are influenced by the advertisements they see on television. Is this a surprise to anyone and did a study really have to be done to prove it?

When are educated professionals going to stop spending money to identify things we already know and/or can do little to change - and instead start putting those funds behind serious early intervention and prevention programs? After last week's AP report on the US Government's spending of $1 billion on ineffective nutrition education programs, there should be warning signals sounding in every corner of every foundation, organization, agency and business that it's time to start putting money behind innovative programs that will empower our young people with the knowledge to make healthy lifestyle decisions. Until that day arrives, I believe efforts to curb childhood obesity and related diseases will continue to be fought on a losing battleground.

Television advertisements ARE NOT making our kids obese! I have two boys who are both members of the tween market (8 and 11 year olds) and I frequently check in on what they are watching on TV. To the best of my knowledge, I have not seen a single food advertisement suggesting that they eat an entire pack of cookies or consume an inordinate amount of any one product - at any one time. The minute I witness such an advertisement, I'll join the bandwagon advocating severe restrictions on junk food advertising to kids - but I highly doubt that will ever occur. It is OK to have a few cookies and potato chips if they are consumed in moderation and as part of a healthy diet. So, don't blame the food companies if kids are eating whole packs of cookies, chips and drinking 2 liters of soda while watching a television program - it's not their fault. Food companies may be easy targets and have big bulls-eyes painted on their corporate logos, but at the end of the day it's not their responsibility to control the nutritional intake of our children. We, as parents, must assume that responsibility despite our hectic lifestyles.

However, food and beverage companies can be part of the solution by taking an active role in helping educators and parents develop meaningful and effective health education programs. There should not be a fight over whether or not food advertising should be banned from children's television, but rather an aggressive partnership between all interested parties to better educate and prepare our young people to live a healthier lifestyle. That's the real issue, but the question is will the groups and organizations on the bandwagon be willing to step outside their comfort zones to partner with the very people they have long painted with a bullseye?

We (LifeStyle Media Group) have an educational program called Get Fit FOCUS that we want to provide to schools for free. It's built on a web 2.0 platform and is designed to provide young people, parents and teachers with a rich interactive healthy lifestyle educational experience. However, it's not inexpensive to develop and we will absolutely need several funding partners (private, public, corporate) to help with its distribution and continued development. But our partners will expect something in exchange for their support. If we put their corporate brand on our educational product or use one of their food products to study nutritional labeling or percentage of daily caloric intake, isn't that in itself advertising?

The fight over food advertising to young people will not end anytime soon, but the spending on programs with questionable value must stop now. I would also respectfully suggest that the bandwagon reevaluate its focus on food company advertising to young people and consider channeling their good intentions into helping get effective health education programs into our schools. Working together, we'll get there a whole lot faster!

In good health,

Phil Christian

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Shaq Factor - role models and the media

There's been a lot of press coverage given to ABC's summer television experiment called Shaq's Big Challenge and the reviews of Tuesday night's premier have been mixed. My partners and I know from first hand experience how powerful a message delivered from a positive role model can be. Having worked in the past with such superstars as Bo Jackson, Kristi Yamaguchi, Herschel Walker, Cory Everson, Troy Aikman, Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm and many others there is no doubt that these role models can have a profound impact on the way a young person receives a message(s). In our case, we traveled the country with a highly interactive healthy lifestyle field trip program that reached more than 4 million young people in 43 states and 140 communities. During that time, more than 100 high profile role models participated in the program because they saw first hand the positive impact they were having on the lives of young people. The letters and emails we received from teachers, students, parents and community leaders afterwards, only reinforced the significant role each of our celebrities played in the process.

So, will Shaq actually make an impact on the kids participating in the program? The answer to that question will likely come down to how much he cares. The unfortunate truth about obesity is that it won't end for the actors when the television program is over - and if Shaq is the motivation behind each child, then he must also play a part in the ongoing treatment, education and sustainability.

I'm hoping that the "Shaq factor" will truly have a long term impact on the kids in the program and grow to inspire other children throughout the US to think about their health and fitness. If that happens, and Shaq remains committed to being a true role model for the cause, then we may have a winning formula for a television program that can have a positive impact on the lives of many young people.

Common Sense Media reviewed Shaq's Big Challenge and offered some ideas on how families can talk about what they see and learn on the program. They suggest asking such questions as: Do you think it makes a clear, effective point? What other ways could the experts approach the issue with the kids? Why is obesity such a problem, anyway? What role does the media play in our food consumption and lifestyle habits? Do you think there should be limits on the advertising and endorsements that junk food companies and fast food restaurants can do? Why or why not? Click here to read the review and learn more. They also have a terrific guide for parents and educators to use in helping young people deal with the "healthy and unhealthy" impact media has on their lives (television, video games, computers, movies, music, etc). The guide is called Keeping Kids Healthy in a 24/7 Media World and it's worth reading. You can get it here.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

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