Students at Holy Redeemer School in College Park prepare an apple salad in 2010 in the cafeteria for the final feast of the school Chef's Club. As part of a national initiative sponsored by the White House, the school partnered with local Chef Monica Thomas to teach children how to make nutritious dishes after school. (CNS photo/Tracy Deik, Holy Redeemer School)
Community approach needed to combat obesity
June 20, 2012
By Maria Pia Negro
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON - Longtime pediatricians say they have seen the rate of childhood and adolescent obesity triple in the past 25 years, and now communities are joining forces to address the problem.
One in every three children is obese, the Institute of Medicine reported in a study published in early May. Another 2012 government-funded study suggested that 42 percent of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030.
“If we don’t turn it around, children will be dying before their parents,” said Kim Amer, interim director of DePaul University’s School of Nursing. “This is a community issue, not just a child or family issue.”
Obese children can develop asthma, sleep apnea, bone and orthopedic problems, skin problems, liver disease, diabetes and future coronary diseases, said Dr. Garry Sigman, an expert in childhood obesity at Loyola University Health System in Chicago.
Other problems are psychological, as discrimination can impact children’s self-esteem and social success, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
Sigman and specialists at the University of San Diego recommend children and teenagers avoid sodas or sugary drinks, eat at home at least four times a week, aim for 60 minutes of daily activity, control portions, eat breakfast and limit “screen time” to two hours a day. Having meals at home with the family, with the TV off, can also help, he said.
“Not only is the food often better prepared, there is conversation and other things happening. In front of TV, they just shovel the food inside,” Sigman told Catholic News Service.
But physicians said reducing the obesity epidemic does not depend on doctors and parents alone.
Communities can help by providing safe spaces for children to play, ensuring healthy food options for families and requiring more physical education in school, reported the National Academies, which includes the Institute of Medicine and other entities.
Faith-based organizations have been working with communities to promote healthy living.
WellnessWorks of Catholic Charities West Virginia, Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese and St. John Providence Health System in Michigan are among the organizations that have joined a national initiative called “Let’s Move Faith and Communities.”
The initiative is part of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” public awareness campaign to reduce childhood obesity to 5 percent by 2030.
St. Joseph Health System, which has facilities in California, west Texas and eastern New Mexico, took a community-oriented approach to reduce childhood obesity with a school-based program called Healthy for Life.
Since 2008, St. Joseph Health System has provided nutrition education and facilitated physical activity for a total of 22,600 teachers, children and parents in California’s Orange County alone, said Tracy Bryars, a registered dietitian and Healthy for Life’s program director. During the 2010-2011 school year, the percentage of clinically obese students decreased from 47.8 percent to 45.6 percent.
Schools nationwide are promoting healthy eating with the “Chef Moves In” initiative, which fosters partnerships between chefs and schools, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One of these schools is Holy Redeemer Catholic School in College Park, Md., which started a Chef’s Club whereby students from fourth through eighth grade learn to make healthy recipes.
Led by local chef Monica Thomas, nearly 50 children have learned to stir, chop and mince healthy foods twice a month in the school’s cafeteria to create nutritious snacks such as pumpkin and black bean quesadillas and turkey meatloaf.
“Chef Monica exposes them to different foods, really good foods, that can still be quick and easy,” said Carl P. Jankowski, the school’s vice principal. “All you have to do is find the other places in the grocery story to pick up your ingredients.”
The after-school program helps children, and the volunteers that work with them, to learn the ingredients’ nutritional values and how to cook them, while they brainstorm ways to incorporate healthy products into tasty meals and snacks, he said.
“Kids spend so much time at school,” Bryars said. “There is an opportunity to teach and encourage healthy lifestyles that will carry them into adulthood.”
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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