One in every three adults and one in every six children is overweight or obese. This is despite efforts to educate the public and to offer simple suggestions, such as eating fruits and vegetables and getting physically active.
While I acknowledge the role of diet and exercise in controlling weight, by emphasizing these strategies alone, we may be promoting the idea that the solution is easy. To the contrary, the remedies are complex and require multiple strategies in multiple settings.
For example, the role of other critical factors such as the environment and caregivers cannot be ignored.
The federal initiative Communities Putting Prevention to Work is addressing the environmental aspect with projects to drive local policy and system changes. The changes will lead to environments conducive to physical activity and to enhanced food production for improved nutrition.
As we work on the policy, systems and environmental solutions, I also want to talk candidly about caregiver education.
Parents and grandparents have the most important role in the fight against childhood obesity. Too many babies are overfed or given the wrong type of food. The poor choices caregivers make today can eventually lead to a child developing the obesity-related health issues of diabetes, sleep apnea, and heart disease in adulthood.
I have three recommendations for loving, well-meaning caregivers:
n Make choosing the right food fun. Tell children to choose food that looks like the organs they benefit. As children start connecting walnuts to the brain, and celery and rhubarb to the bones, we will get closer to making the healthy choice the fun and easy choice.
n Use creativity in promoting physical activity. Suggesting dancing as a form of exercise and tree-climbing, which builds muscle, may be more appealing to youth than a 30-minute walk.
n Help children realize that the battle against obesity takes place first in the mind and heart. And it is not a fight for the weak.
But by fortifying them with the knowledge that a different body style does not define who they are or limit them in any way, we can help children overcome the low self-esteem that can accompany obesity.
Whichever intervention is used to stem the tide of this growing epidemic, a little creativity and a lot of education will be required to engage, not just the key players, but the entire community. The health and well-being of future generations depend on it.
A. Laura Durojaiye is the interim manager of DeKalb Board of Health’s Health Assessment and Promotion Office of Chronic Disease Prevention. She is also co-author of the childhood obesity book series “Little Somora: Conversations in Childhood Obesity.”