Saturday, December 30, 2006

Obesity Kids

There was a story in Friday's Boston Globe that highlighted the severity of the obesity epidemic for urban kids. The story, based on a research study that is published in the current American Journal of Public Health, describes the fact that, of the 2,000 families studied, over 1/3 of the kids under three years of age were obese!

In Boston, in reaction to the findings, the city's health officials announced that a $279,000 grant was being given "to community groups committed to joining the war on obesity, taking the fight directly to the city's streets..." Boston apparently believes that the obesity epidemic needs to be tackled by going after the hearts and minds side of the equation that we have been stressing in some of our critical comments about the NYC DOH's initiatives in this area.

The problem that health officials face is related to both diet and the lack of physical exercise. The question that we face is how to we get this population, most of whom are on some form of government food assistance, to change their lifestyle? In New York, however, the emphasis has been on restructuring the way that restaurants, grocery stores and supermarkets do business. Little has been done to address the nutrition/public education component. This is precisely why the Health Corps initiative that we have been championing is so crucial.

In the Globe story the issue of the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables is once again raised: "Low income parents often tell Boston Medical Center doctors that fresh fruits and vegetables either aren't accessible in the inner city or cost too much." Some kind of empirical testing of this needs to be done, testing that will determine whether the problem lies with availability or rather with the lack of awareness and demand for these healthier alternatives from the target population (or perhaps somewhere in between).

Once a better understanding is achieved, then perhaps we can devise some pilot programs to see if we can get a greater demand for these food items. As one health advocate told the Globe, "'s not only saying what women should be doing but also showing how to problem solve, how to access these nutritious foods, and helping them make choices about what is healthy eating and how to read a label." Certainly, simply posting calorie counts on a fast food menu is an inadequate and inequitable public policy measure.