OMHRC Senior Media Relations Specialist
A number of recent reports offer an improving picture of children's health in the United States, showing better outcomes on a variety of significant health indicators. Infant mortality rates are down across many states, preterm and teen births are decreasing and violent crime and victimization among children are on a downward slope1. Compared to two years ago, fewer children are without health insurance2 or living in homes with smokers3.
But when it comes to reducing childhood obesity, the national scale has not budged. Today, nearly one in three children is overweight or obese. For Hispanic and African American children–many of whom live in urban areas–the rates are significantly higher.
Recognizing that it will take a coordinated effort to address the pervasive problem of childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the next chapter of the Let's Move! campaign earlier this summer. It builds on the initiative's existing goals and expands the program regionally to cities, towns and counties.
This September, National Childhood Obesity Awareness month spotlights how the Let's Move! strategy to create local momentum and encourage local action for children's health comes at a critical moment, especially for the most vulnerable children living in our communities.
In Hispanic and African American communities, nearly 40 percent of children are obese or overweight4. According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2010, African American girls were 80 percent more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white girls5, and in 2007-2008, Mexican American school-aged children were 1.4 times more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white children6. Although the prevalence of obesity increased for white children and adolescents between 2007 and 2008, Hispanic boys, ages 2 to 19 years, and non-Hispanic African American girls had the most significant increases7.
The impact of obesity on child health is devastating and compounded by other social determinants of health, such as poverty, food insecurity and access to safe housing and green spaces. Obese youth face a higher risk of developing high cholesterol or high blood pressure, risk factors for cardiovascular disease. They are more likely to have pre-diabetes and suffer from bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and emotional difficulties associated with poor self-esteem.
The long-term effects of obesity could potentially derail the health of the nation for decades to come. Obese children and teens are more likely to be obese adults, and the list of chronic health problems associated with obesity in adulthood include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer. Many of these diseases already account for the numerous health disparities that exist between minorities and the general population.
In an attempt to reverse this cycle, the new phase of Let's Move! aims to put national health goals into action in communities by providing locally elected leaders with resources and guidelines to address childhood obesity in the neighborhoods they serve.
During this next phase, local and regional officials will be tasked with five main objectives that mirror the Let's Move! initiative's national agenda.
- Implement early education programs that incorporate best practices for nutrition and physical activity
- Promote the My Plate nutrition guide in all municipal or county venues
- Encourage healthy food in schools and more participation in the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs
- Establish locally implemented healthy and sustainable food service guidelines
- Commit to developing plans aimed at providing children with safe places to play
New public and private partnerships announced under the campaign will help municipalities work collaboratively to move the needle on childhood obesity. One such partnership is with the National League of Cities (NLC)'s Institute for Youth, Education and Families. With support from the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties, the group plans to provide local governments with free resources that include access to experts and tracking tools to map out progress on child health and connect with other Let's Move! sites.
Other partnerships will focus with greater intensity on the need to increase physical activity and public play areas for children. Through the Partnership for a Healthier America's "Play Street Initiative," the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is funding street closings to increase traffic-free play spaces in urban areas. KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that promotes physical activity for kids, will offer free guidance, materials and technical assistance to help build and expand public playgrounds. Resources will include a free mobile mapping tool to capture and share the locations of publicly accessible community recreational spaces.
Research confirms the relationship between good health and improved academic achievement. With a new school year underway, Let's Move! and local governments are working together to reduce the weight of the childhood obesity epidemic and improve the future picture of health for our nation.
1 July 11, 2012 press conference with Alan E. Guttmacher,M.D., director, Eunice Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, US National Institutes of Health; Edward Sondik, Ph.d., director, National Center for Health Statistics, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, David L. Katz, M.D., MPH, director, Yale Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., July 13, 2012 report, America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2012
2"Kids Count databook, 2012," The Annie E. Casey Foundation
3July 11, 2012 press conference with Alan E. Guttmacher,M.D., director, Eunice Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, US National Institutes of Health; Edward Sondik, Ph.d., director, National Center for Health Statistics, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, David L. Katz, M.D., MPH, director, Yale Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., July 13, 2012 report, America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2012