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Fight Against Childhood Obesity Launches

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Top international experts in fields spanning architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, health, exercise, nutrition, education and the design and marketing of playground toys and computer games will convene at McGill University in Montreal Nov. 5-7 to explore ways in which not just the eating habits but the play, learning habits and environments of our children are impacting childhood obesity worldwide.

The 2008 McGill Health Challenge Think Tank: Active Living and Energy Balance, is the second of a special two-year program on childhood obesity. The think tank and its satellite events will bring together a cross-section of the world's most innovative thinkers in health and business, agriculture, agri-food, architecture, transportation, civil engineering and urban planning. They represent organizations from Unilever, Kellogg's and McDonald's to the US National Institute for Play, UNICEF, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and leading universities.

Johann Koss, four-time Olympic Gold Medalist and President and CEO of The Right to Play, a philanthropic organization that promotes better conditions for child development worldwide, will deliver the Think Tank's opening keynote.

The Think Tank will be held at Montreal's Centre Mont-Royal, adjacent to the McGill University campus, following a pre-event research workshop (Nov. 3-5) and preceding the Gates Foundation workshop "Green Revolution 2.5: From Crisis to Convergence in Agriculture, Agri-food and Health" (Nov. 8-9).

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Prof. Laurette Dube, McGill Health Challenge Think Tank Founder and Co-Chair said, "It's a fascinating time to be looking at these questions because we all start from the problem of a human development issue – the obesity pandemic -- and tackle it where it affects its most vulnerable targets, children, and that inspires us to see collaborations for innovation that are just breathtaking in their potential."

Together, these stakeholders, frontline professionals and visionaries will explore ways to incorporate active living into the fabric of everyday life for children and teenagers in an era when physical activity must compete with the lure of computer, television and handheld video game screens. At the same time, parents are relying increasingly on fast and processed foods that make up for in empty calories what they lack in real energy -- an unfortunate recipe for a pandemic of childhood obesity that has put this generation of children at risk to be the first in history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

In industrialized countries such as the United States, childhood obesity has tripled in the last two decades while economic prosperity in the developing world has spread the problem to countries that are, ironically, still also coping with hunger and malnutrition. Based on current trends, nearly 287 million children could be overweight or obese by 2010 – 85% more than a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the dramatic rise in oil prices and concern over global warming is literally changing the landscape in urban planning and architecture to better incorporate human activity. These changes include the advent of living spaces that move well beyond existing models of fuel-dependent suburban sprawl to walkable communities with sustainable economic, societal, environmental, cultural and health footprints.

McGill Architecture Professor and Think Tank Co-Chair Avi Friedman said the program represents a unique gathering of experts from fields whose interconnections are just emerging. "We're witnessing the crumbling of the suburban model and the search is on for a new one that is less car-dependent and fosters an active lifestyle."

Wherever kids live, software, television production and education innovators are finding new and healthier ways to entertain and teach them. Many of those producing groundbreaking content and programs specifically geared to getting children and teenagers up and moving will be presenting at or attending the Think Tank, including Brian Christian, developer of the interactive game Dance Dance Revolution.