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Obesity Initiative Taking on The Youth Obesity

Armen Hareyan's picture

Youth Obesity

The MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation is taking on youth obesity, an issue that has soared to epidemic proportions nationwide.

In a climate of slow public attention to this crisis, the Foundation is committed to promoting action and awareness.

Roughly nine million children over age six are overweight; nearly double the number from 1980. This health issue may begin as early as infancy and span throughout an individual's lifetime, dispelling the notion that children will naturally outgrow their weight. Recent research demonstrates that 60% of overweight pre-schoolers and 80% of overweight elementary school children become overweight teens.

Heavy adolescents have an 80% chance of becoming overweight or obese as adults, increasing their risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Alexandra Muenze, Program Associate for the Foundation explains, "The obesity issue isn't just about your kid's weight, it is about their long-term health."

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The Foundation recognizes that many factors contribute to the issue, including poor eating choices, skewed portions sizes, reduced physical activity, increased screen time, and a lack of health education and awareness for children and parents.

Children are particularly vulnerable to these factors for several reasons. First, they are exposed to many different, often conflicting, health messages throughout the day; second, they are a captive audience without advanced analytical skills; and third, they have very little, if any, input in decision making that affects their health and weight.

In response, the Foundation has created a wide range of funding, training, and technical assistance opportunities under its childhood obesity initiative. According to Martin Cohen, Foundation President, "Childhood obesity is the right issue for the Foundation. In responding to it, we have an opportunity to not only develop interventions that will help kids now, but may be able to influence their health as adults. We can also use our position to inform and educate kids, parents, schools, and other organizations about what can be done to address the lifestyle, environmental, and policy issues that contribute to this problem."

In 2006 the Foundation made grants available for evidence-based nutrition and physical education programs, School Wellness Policy implementation, programs that offer active "screen time" alternatives, parent education on nutrition, health screening services, and the creation of materials that promote local health and fitness opportunities. To date, the Foundation has invested over $875,000 towards combating youth obesity in MetroWest.

Apart from funding, the Foundation is committed to helping grantees succeed by offering high quality training and technical assistance. Of top priority is to expose grantees to model programs and projects that target youth obesity, and to help them tailor those models for their own community.

Additionally, the Foundation has made grant funding available to Framingham State College's Food and Nutrition Department for a series of grantee and community training sessions. The sessions will include basic nutrition education, food preparation skills, and strategies for working with different cultures around food and health. Janet Schwartz, Department Chair, suggests the time may be right for change; "People who never sat around the table before are now sitting around the table