Recently, we all received some good news and bad news about the obesity epidemic
in America. We rejoiced at the news from the CDC that showed a decline in obesity
rates for low-income pre-school age children for the first time in decades and its
suggestion that initiatives like our First Lady's "Let's Move" Campaign and the
Surgeon General's breastfeeding awareness efforts have been part of the solution.
Then about a week after the release of the CDC study, came the bad news. Results
from a Robert Wood Johnson-sponsored (Masters, 2013) study that stated that
accounts for at least 18 percent of deaths in this country
: 20 percent of deaths
in women and 15 percent of deaths in men. This is more than triple what had been
previously reported (5 percent) as the rate of deaths attributed to obesity. And
while researchers might be haggling over the study's methodology, they all agree
that obesity is very bad for our health and is a major contributor to death and
chronic disease for Americans of all ages. This is further substantiated by the
fact that, earlier this summer, the
American Medical Association officially designated
obesity as a disease
, acknowledging the role fat cells play in contributing to inflammation,
hypertension and other serious cardiovascular diseases.
Research, also done by the CDC, has clearly documented that obese children are more
likely than normal-weight children to become obese adolescents and are five times
more likely to become obese adults. And numerous studies have documented the link
between maternal obesity and increases in the risk for poor birth outcomes for both
mother and baby (Chen, et al, Journal of Epidemiology, January 2009, and numerous
other studies). This latter finding most directly impacts the work of Baltimore
Healthy Start and 104 other federal Healthy Start Projects whose mandate it is to
reduce disparities in infant mortality in extremely low-income urban, rural, border
and tribal communities across our nation where the rates of overweight and obese
women are closer to 50-60 percent.
The Healthy Start network of projects has, since its inception, included an emphasis
on well woman care, working with women during their interconception period to promote
healthy weight and exercise as well as effective management of chronic diseases
that disproportionately plague the vulnerable populations served. In 2009-2012,
the Healthy Start network participated in a
HRSA-sponsored Interconception Care
Learning Collaborative [PDF | 560KB] in which healthy weight was one of the key focus areas. During
this Learning Collaborative, Healthy Start projects integrated evidence-based tools
and curricula aimed at improving the weight and wellness of clients. The women's
health focus received a major boost nationally and is expected to expand more broadly
as a result of prevention and wellness provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Healthy Start serves a population where obesity and obesity related illnesses are
directly linked to socio-economic issues like poverty, limited access to healthier
foods and cultural beliefs about weight and food. So our efforts are less about
losing weight and more about getting our clients fit through regular exercise, healthy
eating and compliance with medical care plans. This is the basis for our Baltimore
Healthy Start's FINE Club (Families into Nutrition and Fitness) which works with
overweight and obese women to help them focus on healthier choices in meals, activities
and general lifestyle habits.
Baby Buggy Walk in the Park events will happen in Healthy Start cities across the
nation on (or about) September 21, as part of the commemoration of
Awareness Month. Baltimore Healthy Start, in partnership with the Office of Minority
Health Resource Center, developed and launched this family fun and fitness event
in 2012 to build on efforts to help its clients be healthier, to increase awareness
about infant mortality, to increase the knowledge about our partners who offer important
resources to support healthy living and to advance Healthy Start's, OMH's, and CDC's
(National Preconception Health Steering Committee) work to improve the health and
wellbeing of preconception and interconception women.
Now in its second year, this event is national and will include families in urban,
rural, border and tribal communities – from Tampa, FL, to Syracuse, NY, to Laredo,
TX to Sikeston, MO, to Florence, SC, to the Odawa Indian Reservation in Petoskey,
MI, and beyond. Healthy Start projects in 20 cities in 12 different states are participating,
thanks to the financial and technical assistance of OMHRC. This national event will
have celebrities like Tonya Lewis Lee
(author and OMH spokesperson for its “A Healthy
Baby Begins with You” Campaign), healthy food, meal demonstrations, fitness workouts,
cultural dances and much more. But the featured attraction at each and every Baby
Buggy Walk in the Park, whether it is in New Orleans or Baltimore, will be a festive
walk of 1.0-1.5 miles. The thousands of participating Healthy Start families and
friends, who may have never knowingly walked a mile before, will be joined by partners
and supporters in taking new steps to fitness. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Minority Health and OMH Director Dr. J. Nadine Gracia will be leading the walk in
Baltimore with Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Dr. Joshua Sharfstein,
and each city has the involvement of local politicians, service providers, exercise
and healthy food vendors and just regular folks.
For information on how you can join in this day of fitness or to find out about
Baby Buggy Walk in the Park events near you,
email Francine Tucker at or visit the
National Healthy Start website
So let's get moving and remember – every step you take that day leads to a pathway
for a healthier life for you and sets an example for our children.
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Alma Roberts is CEO of Baltimore Healthy Start and president of the National Healthy Start Association.