Behind the Scenes

Obesity Efforts at City and State Levels May Pay Off

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report in September that few people seemed to take note of at that time. That may have been because few people were sure that the statistics were true. After seeing the national childhood obesity rate climb to 17 percent (about 12.5 million people) in recent years, the report indicated that the obesity rates for children in some cities had declined. That’s right—declined.

Yesterday’s New York Times ran a story about the report that likely will draw even more attention to this surprising finding.

The report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noted signs of progress in the cities and states of Philadelphia (4.7 percent decline), New York City (5.5 percent decline), Mississippi (13.3 percent decline) and California (1.1 percent decline).

One line stood out to me from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Report: “The places that are reporting declines are those that are taking comprehensive action to address the childhood obesity epidemic.”

The report noted that Philadelphia and New York City are leaders for cities in taking action on childhood obesity while California and Mississippi are leaders at the state level. The report shared some of the efforts implemented in those locations—from improving nutrition standards in schools to helping corner stores carry fresh fruit.

This news is especially important as another group, the United Health Foundation released its report today that Americans have more chronic conditions today but they are living longer with those chronic conditions because of the advances in medicine. If this country does not get a handle of these chronic conditions now with the younger generation, our future is not bright.

The work is not done. In many of the cities reporting the declines, the decreases were most pronounced among white children from higher-income families compared to poorer and minority populations (although Philadelphia had a greater decrease in its minority population’s rate).

Just as the stop smoking campaigns that started 50 years ago have shown, concerted efforts that share truths about our behaviors and educate people about how to make better choices do help—slowly but surely. As you know in watching your members who come into your clubs, change on an individual level typically takes time. So imagine how much more time it will take to change a bunch of individuals’ minds and behaviors.

I applaud the school districts that are serving healthier food and getting junk food out of the vending machines. Thank you to Michelle Obama for her focus on physical activity and nutrition, especially calling attention to the need for more convenient access to healthy foods and cheaper healthy purchasing options for people in poorer communities. I am grateful for the business owners of convenience stores who now stock apples, oranges and other healthy foods. A big thank you to groups that are educating parents and children about nutrition and exercise—I am sure some fitness facility operators are part of this.

If you have not yet gotten out into your community’s schools, rec centers, civic groups and places of worship to educate the masses about proper nutrition and the importance of exercise or worked with city leaders and school districts to bring healthier dietary choices into your schools and more fun physical education options, I urge you to do so. We need people in the fitness industry to show children that being active is fun by showing them fun ways to be active—climbing walls, obstacle courses, games, dancing.

We have a long way to go, but it appears concerted efforts may have started making a difference. Feel free to share with us what you have been doing to help!

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