Subscribe via RSS

Add to Google Reader or Homepage
Add to netvibes

Add to My AOL

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

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Community United! (Shape Up Somerville)

Innovation comes in many forms and this week a small city suburb of Boston received much recognition for their approach to creating a healthier community. Some may call it innovative, others may call it common sense, but few (if any) have been able to make the commitment Somerville, MA made to improving the health of their residents - especially their young people. The program (called: Shape Up Somerville) targeted 1,178 1st-3rd graders with the general community as a secondary audience. Its primary mission was to create healthy eating and physical activity messages and increase opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating, specifically fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grain products throughout the children’s day. The program was made possible by a three year $1.5 million research grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another smaller grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For those of you counting beans, the program had a per student cost of approximately $1,273, but when you consider the community as a whole the cost per individual is reduced to $19.50. So, did the investment pay off? The Tufts University research team responsible for securing the grant, preparing the community for the program and evaluating its results believe it did.

Led by Christina Economos, from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Tufts University team created a community-based environmental approach to obesity prevention for the Somerville students and their community. The team focused on the following areas: School Food Service, In-school Curriculum, After School Curriculum, Community Outreach, Restaurants, Safe Walking Routes to School, School Nurses, Pediatricians, and Policy Changes. Taken from an article published by MSNBC, Economos says, "What is different about this intervention is that we engage the entire community and we intervened before school, during school, after school, in the homes throughout the community and really changed the world that the children lived in." (article) The researchers found that schoolchildren in Somerville gained a pound less than their counterparts in two nearby control communities. The results of the study were published last week in the journal Obesity. Another popular journal, the Wall Street Journal, featured the Shape Up Somerville program prominently on their front page and had this to say about the program, "The Somerville program, designed primarily by Dr. Economos and fellow researchers at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, offers a surprising blueprint. It didn't force schoolchildren to go on diets. Instead, the goal was to change their environment with small and inexpensive steps. Dr. Economos, a specialist in pediatric nutrition and the mother of two school-age children, has long believed that the battle against obesity can't be fought at the dinner table alone but requires social and political changes."

Although few, if any communities will be fortunate enough to receive a $1.5 million grant to implement a program such as Shape Up Somerville, the hope is that the lessons learned will inspire others to take action and improve on the blueprint that now exists. Shape Up Somerville has proven that a community united can make a positive difference in the health of their residents - now it's up to others to do the same for their community. Are you one of those others? Are you willing to step outside your comfort zone and take a risk for the benefit of a community? Will community businesses and political leadership do the same? Peter F. Drucker said "What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter." Only time will tell...

In good health,

Phil Christian

LifeStyle Media Group

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Childhood Obesity and Prevention - who's going to step up to the plate?

Childhood obesity has been in the news a lot lately - and it should be! It's a serious issue that if not addressed will have significant consequences in adding to the spiraling health care costs, shortened lifespans and additional economic burdens on governments, communities, businesses and citizens. Some have tried to estimate the economic impact, but the truth is no one really knows what the true cost of obesity and related health diseases will be to the United States or any other nation. The only thing for certain, is that the cost will be immense. We already know that the annual cost to our health care system for obesity and related diseases is approximately $123 billion - and that number is several years old. Since then, tens of millions of dollars have been spent by foundations, government agencies and private investors to research the cause, extent and prognosis for the "obesity epidemic." Quite frankly, I'm tired of reading the countless studies telling us that obesity is real and that we need to do something about it. I don't mean any disrespect to our esteemed researchers who have provided countless volumes of important data, but I think most Americans will agree that obesity is a real and serious threat to the health or our nation.

So what are we doing to prevent this growing epidemic? Sadly, not enough. I was stunned to read in a recent news article by George Will profiling Tommy Thompson (former US Secretary of Heath and Human Services and current republican presidential candidate) that the US government spends 93% of its health care budget treating disease and only 7% on prevention - and that's for ALL sickness. According to the article, Thompson claims: "In seven years, health care will devour $4 trillion annually, which will be 21 percent of the gross domestic product. It is, he argues, irrational to spend just 7 percent on prevention of sickness and 93 percent on treatment. Seventy-five percent of health spending goes to treat the 125 million Americans who have one or more chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes, which is related to the epidemic of obesity. In five years, or sooner, such diabetes may involve 62 million Americans and cost $400 billion. Sixty percent of these cases could, he says, be prevented by walking 30 minutes a day and losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight." Here's the link to the article. Those are powerful words from someone who knows the facts. If what Secretary Thompson claims is true, why is much of American (and the world) still not hearing the warning? The encouraging news is that some are listening and taking action, but much, much more must be done. Last month the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation received a lot of attention with their public commitment of $500 million to fund prevention related programs over the next five years. What programs are going to receive this funding and how effective they will be is yet to be determined, but give RWJ credit for taking an actionable stance against obesity. And kudos to our friends down under who last week announced their commitment to spend almost $900 million to tackle preventable illness and head off the linked epidemics of diabetes and obesity in their country.

There are others taking action as well, but sadly there are even more who want to
talk the talk without having to walk the walk. It's going to take a herculean effort and a lot of "outside the box" thinking by innovative and creative people - along with some willing risk taking by the organizations and individuals with the funds. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for such innovative and risk taking endeavors and sharing my thoughts on them in the weeks ahead. So check back often and don't hesitate to share your innovative program with me as well.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address: