Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Expert: We have power to end childhood obesit

NEENAH - While childhood obesity is a complex and epidemic issue, communities have the power to reverse trends through collaboration, a nationally renowned nutrition expert said Tuesday.

Dr. Christina Economos, an associate professor at Tufts University, spoke to about 200 community members during a breakfast held by the Weight of the Fox Valley, a community health initiative spearheaded by the United Way in the Fox Cities and Oshkosh."Communities can come together, they can bond, they can create change," Economos said.

Economos watched it happen. She's been involved in a number successful efforts across the country to reduce weight and increase the health of children.

She led the "Shape Up Somerville" program in Massachusetts, which began in 2002 to determine whether community changes could prevent weight gain in children. The three-year study resulted in healthier weights among first- through third-graders targeted by the initiative. The communitywide effort worked to increase physical activity among children as well as healthy eating. She's since been able to replicate the results elsewhere.

The message adds fuel to the fire for those leading the Weight of the Fox Valley movement, which is in its early stages. Keren Rosenberg, program manager for the initiative, said Economos' session provided a road map for the region to reach its goals.

"We have a start, but it's a long journey," Rosenberg said.

There's plenty of work to accomplish, here and elsewhere. About a third of children in the United States are overweight and almost half of those are obese.

In the simplest terms, it's an issue that comes down to energy, Economos said told the group.

"There's too much coming in and not enough coming out," she said.

Balancing the intake and output — eating and exercise — is where the work begins.

Contributors to childhood obesity include consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and low-cost, calorie-dense foods. Portion sizes have grown and children are heavily influenced by food advertising directed toward the young, Economos said. Students aren't receiving adequate education on nutrition and parents frequently don't have a good understanding of the issue.

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