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

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fix What is Fixable!

Recently I stumbled upon an article written by Dave Sherman, Principal of South Park Elementary School in Deerfield, Illinois regarding his thoughts on the role educators play in the health of our children today (Is It Our Responsibility To Keep Kids Healthy?). I wanted to share it with you because it's a great example of how a small (but possibly controversial) change in our schools, can have a meaningful impact on shaping the way young people think about health and nutrition.

What did this brave educator do that was so radical he feared parent and teacher backlash? He fixed a very fixable problem that has over the years become commonplace in classrooms across the US - he eliminated birthday treats from student birthday celebrations and replaced them with a "birthday book" program. Gone are the cupcakes, cookies and unhealthy treats and in their place - a book program that ties the birthday celebration back to an educational experience (in more ways than one). Kudos to Principal Sherman for fixing something that was easily fixable.

Obviously there is much more to do when it comes to educating our young people about making healthy lifestyle choices and as parents we play the most important role in shaping those choices. In addition to leading by example, here is a helpful article suggesting some ways that parents can help their kids and schools get healthy.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Education is the Key to Addressing Childhood Obesity (Classroom 2.0)

One of my partners sent me a link to a blog written by Marion Nestle that appeared on the Huffington Post website called Fixing School Food: Out with the Junk Foods. It's a well written article that speaks to the conundrum schools face in promoting a healthy educational environment while making unhealthy food choices readily available to the student population. The article was inspired by the Institute of Medicine's report titled: Nutrition Standards for Foods In Schools. The author makes some good points on the need to reduce or eliminate unhealthy food choices in schools, but unfortunately the article does not address the need to support that process with ongoing and sustainable health education. Simply changing the "food" environment inside schools is not going to produce healthier children unless they are also provided with the education to understand the consequences associated with making unhealthy food choices. So, all of this leads me to ask - why are we not doing more about educating our young people about the benefits of making good healthy lifestyle choices?

Haven't we learned from our tobacco efforts? Changing the environment alone is not going to change a nation of addicts - especially addicts hooked on corn syrup, fast foods and a sedentary lifestyle. Today there are vast numbers of "smoke free" environments (restaurants, airlines, hotels, office buildings, etc), but smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death (obesity is number two). What's even more alarming are the statistics of adolescent smoking. According to the American Lung Association each day, nearly 6,000 children under 18 years of age start smoking; of these, nearly 2,000 will become regular smokers. That is almost 800,000 annually. So, despite the numerous well intended environmental changes that have been made to prevent or limit smokers access to their habit, it's obvious much more needs to be done.

My partners and I believe it is going to take a mixed approach of environmental change, education and treatment to effectively address the growing obesity issue in this country; but that education provides the greatest opportunity to make a long term sustainable difference. I'm not suggesting that we put environmental changes on the back burner, but rather we use education to stimulate innovative thinking and action as it relates to changing the environment. There are a plethora of organizations today that will readily provide information and resources to motivated individuals looking for information on childhood obesity, but they must truly be motivated in order to dig through all of the layers of information, links, medical journals, blogs, statistical analysis, and, well you get the picture. It's just not that easy to find well organized and useful information that can help a person become a better educated consumer and healthy lifestyle practitioner. So let's help where we can make the greatest difference - providing our future generations with the knowledge they need to make educated and well informed healthy lifestyle choices. A better educated population will positively impact the environment they live in, make healthier lifestyle choices and ultimately reduce the tremendous healthcare costs associated with the treatment of obesity and related diseases.

One of the goals my partners and I have is to use technology to create innovative and revolutionary health education experiences for elementary and middle school students (AKA - our future generation).

Using interactive content rich features built on Web 2.0 technology we are creating an online learning experience called Get Fit FOCUS that truly empowers students to actively participate in their learning experience through an evolving on-line curriculum and numerous interactive, collaborative and social networking elements. It's designed to engage and communicate with young people using mediums relevant to their changing lifestyles - and our goal is to provide this to schools at no cost. Through FOCUS, we will be able to deliver a powerful and sustainable educational experience that can be experienced and shared by all key stakeholders – students, teachers and parents.

We just went live with our development site and hope to have version 1 ready for beta testing this fall. We're collaborating with curriculum developers, classroom technology professionals and many others to insure an exceptional and relevant experience for students, teachers and parents. I’ll keep you updated on our progress, but for now here’s a sneak peak at a few early screen shots from Get Fit FOCUS. As always, your comments and/or suggestions are welcome.

In good health,

Phil Christian
LifeStyle Media Group

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