Meeting the Challenge of Childhood Obesity

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When talking about obesity, people can easily lapse into judgmental terms that place the blame on the overweight person...

When talking about obesity, people can easily lapse into judgmental terms that place the blame on the overweight person. But who's responsible for the widespread and growing problem of childhood obesity? More importantly, how can we stop it?

There are a myriad of systemic factors that contribute to the epidemic, from land use policy to the accessibility of fresh healthful foods in many small communities. The current economic downturn raises the day-to-day stress in many households, and increases the need for churches and other institutions to support parents and families in instilling healthy habits in their kids that will last a lifetime.

Photo (c) Salisbury, NC, Parks and Recreation DepartmentThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has just launched a $33 million program to curb childhood obesity. RWJF is funding initiatives in 50 communities across the country. Two of the grant sites are in North Carolina: Moore-Montgomery County and Nash-Edgecombe County. An additional Tar Heel connection is that the nationwide project is coordinated from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill.

A major focus of the Nash-Edgecombe project is ensuring that preschools serve healthy food and provide plenty of time for energetic play. “With so many single parents working long hours or overnight shifts, many of our children end up eating two meals a day while at child care. We have to work with both the parent and the provider to have a real impact," said Henrietta Zalkind, executive director of the Down East Partnership for Children.

The Moore-Montgomery project is looking at aspects of the built environment in an attempt to increase walkability and "comprehensive connectivity." Both projects also will promote farmers' markets and community gardens, with the aim of improving families' diets while advancing the local economy.

It's good to see resources, vision, and innovation being brought to bear at the community level. With so many churches operating at the center of our communities, are there additional steps we can take to help our support local families in this effort?

Shalom y'all,

John James, M.A.
Research Coordinator
Clergy Health Initiative

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