If you’ve been watching the HBO series “Weight of the Nation” as I have, you too are probably wondering if the factors that got us into our current obesity crisis are too overwhelming to be fixed.
Well, I’m happy to say I do think there is hope, especially for the children. In fact, after attending the IFIC Scientific Communications Summit yesterday where obesity specialist Dr. William Dietz of the Centers for Disease Control spoke, I have new optimism. Dr. Dietz began his talk explaining the latest obesity tracking data published in JAMA shows the obesity epidemic appears to be leveling off, especially among Non-Hispanic White and Mexican American men and women. The stats aren’t as promising, however, for Non-Hispanic Black women. The better news is that among children age 2-19, obesity prevalence appears to be stable for both sexes. This gives us an opportunity to make progress in reversing these trends.
At yesterday’s summit, Dr. Dietz, who is often quoted in the HBO series, made several suggestions about ways communities can prevent and treat childhood obesity, including:
- Promoting safe routes to schools where children can walk
- Promoting active living where children have access to parks and playgrounds
- Supporting policies and programs that increase physical activity and physical education
- Including physical activity in all sectors of life, including where people work, during child care, in schools, throughout communities and throughout states
Successful community programs to address childhood obesity meet local needs by taking advantage of local opportunities. Examples include the Santa Ana California community that purchased a foreclosed property and turned it into a park, or the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program that introduced salad bars into 100 Texas schools for children to become familiar with local fresh fruits and vegetables and even hard boiled eggs, which they can prepare inexpensively at home as well.
Dr. Dietz went on to discuss the difference between a social movement and today’s obesity prevention movement, which he feels still lacks the community grassroots commitment to make it a full-blown social movement. Examples of successful social movements are Mother’s Against Drunk Driving or the fight against secondhand smoking that resulted in laws outlawing smoking in public places. Social movements share some common threads, including:
- A shared personal perception of a threat
- An emotional engagement usually based on a personal incident or story
- A feeling of collective identity and solidarity with the cause
- A collective action against a common target
- Wide and rapidly responsive communication channels
- Sustained action that shows that this issue is not going to go away and demands attention
If the HBO series “Weight of the Nation” can kick off this social movement, then there is hope our obesity problem can be fixed.