PUBLICATIONS & TOOLS
- Moving toward active transportation: How policies can encourage walking and bicycling
- WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity presents its final report
- How to achieve healthier school environments for Latino kids
CHILDHOOD OBESITY RESEARCH & NEWS
- Why poverty may be more relevant than race for childhood obesity
- Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children
- Study: Junk food ads make kids eat “significantly” more food
- Investment in neighborhood parks may curb obesity rates, save costs
USDA releases updated SNAP-Ed Toolkit
Feb. 9, 2016, NCCOR
The third edition of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) Toolkit includes more than 80 interventions and 20 resources categorized by target behavior, intervention or resource type, and setting.
In fiscal year 2016, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) authorized $408 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands to provide nutrition education and obesity prevention services using interventions that include direct education; social marketing; and policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) changes.
To achieve this, states needed a set of effective multi-level interventions and approaches to include in their programs. The toolkit offers a portfolio of existing, evidence-based, and actionable tools to help states identify obesity prevention programs and PSE strategies and interventions. The toolkit also includes strategies to help reach low-income households that are impacted most by health disparities.
Available on both the SNAP-Ed Connection and on the NCCOR webpage, the toolkit was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, The Association of SNAP Nutrition Education Administrators (ASNNA), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Training and Research Translation (Center TRT), and the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).
Original source: https://www.nccor.org/news/usda-releases-updated-snap-ed-toolkit/
Ending childhood obesity is a global challenge
Jan. 30, 2016, Newsweek
By Sania Nishtar and Peter Gluckman
Childhood obesity is no longer the preserve of wealthy nations. There are more overweight and obese children in the developing world, in terms of absolute numbers, and an upward trend is evident.
In Africa alone, the number of overweight children under five years of age nearly doubled from 5.4 million to 10.3 million between 1990 and 2014. Current estimates of 41 million overweight and obese children under five globally represent only the tip of the iceberg—we do not yet have figures available for older children and adolescents. The situation is exacerbated if we factor in the number of children who are heading towards obesity but have not yet reached the standard cut-off.
The increase in obesity in low- and middle-income countries across Africa and Asia—which is truly alarming—threatens to negate the increased life expectancy seen over the last decade and significantly contributes to rising deaths, diseases, and reduced quality of life for those affected.
Obesity in children cannot be seen as a result of lifestyle choices made by the child. We now know that processes, even before birth, can determine the way children respond to the nutrition and physical activity opportunities of the modern world and so increase the risk of them becoming overweight and obese. And obesity in childhood not only impacts on a child’s health and educational attainment and exposes them to stigma and bullying, it is also likely to continue into adulthood, with the accompanying diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Changing social norms, with urbanization and the globalization of unhealthy foods and sedentary lifestyles, mean that childhood obesity is now spreading to all corners of the world and will become an increasing burden on already stretched health services. As a response to this problem, Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), established the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) in 2014 to identify ways to address this urgent issue. The Commission, assisted by expert working groups and following extensive review of the science and consultation with stakeholders around the globe, presented its final report on January 25.
The Commission concluded that “no single intervention can halt the rise of the growing obesity epidemic.” Indeed, only a concerted whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach can hope to stem the rise in obesity. The child’s right to health can be assured by improving health over the course of the child’s life from conception and ensuring children and their parents have appropriate knowledge about nutrition, have access to affordable healthy foods and participate in physical activity.
The report includes six sets of recommendations and also outlines the required actions from governments, international agencies and civil society, including the private sector. But governments must show leadership because the sectors involved are much broader than just health.
For example, there is a central place for the education sector, and hence the imperative to effectively forge collaboration between different sectors. The recommendations focus on changing an environment that tends towards obesity—by encouraging and improving access to healthy diets and physical activity—and ensuring a healthier life course, particularly at the critical early stages of a child’s life, including preconception and pregnancy, and the importance of treating children who are already obese.
Nutrition education that is accessible to all will help families make healthier lifestyle choices. To be effective, this needs to be delivered in appropriate and engaging ways to parents and incorporated in an informed manner into the core curriculum of schools. Regulations such as taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and standards for foods available in schools will all help to support individuals in making the healthy choice.
Body weight and size, however, also have a deep cultural dimension that cannot be ignored. A chubby baby is in many societies considered a healthy baby, with no recognition of the potential health consequences. Indeed, body size and status are linked in some societies. Changing these cultural norms will be vital if the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets for reducing premature deaths due to noncommunicable disease, malnutrition in all its forms, and Universal Health Coverage are to be achieved. The recommendations of the Commission give renewed emphasis and focus to this important issue.
There are social and economic implications for all societies and it is important to recognize that there is no magic bullet—biases that assume this is a matter that can be simply left to the individual family do not reflect the complex interplay between biology, behavior, and environment. As Chan noted, “implementing the recommendations will take political will, and courage.” Governments must take the lead in ensuring appropriate action.
Publications & Tools
Moving toward active transportation: How policies can encourage walking and bicycling
Active travel such as walking or biking for routine trips is not a significant part of daily life for most Americans, yet the health benefits far exceed its risks of injury or exposure to air pollution. A new research brief from Active Living Research summarizes evidence on the health benefits and safety of active travel and examines policies and programs that can help increase active travel.
WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity presents its final report
More than 41 million children under age 5 are obese or overweight, according to the final report from the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO). The report culminated a two-year process to address the alarming levels of childhood obesity and overweight globally. According to the report, low- and middle-income countries are seeing the greatest rise in the number of children being obese or overweight.
How to achieve healthier school environments for Latino kids
Latino students engage in less physical activity than their peers and are more likely to consume calories from low-nutrient, energy dense foods during school days. The 2016 Healthier Schools research review, issue brief, and infographics highlight key data and policy implications for improving nutrition and physical activity opportunities for Latino kids.
Childhood Obesity Research & News
Why poverty may be more relevant than race for childhood obesity
Jan. 22, 2016, NPR
By Vanessa Rancano
As researchers have searched for ways to explain the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, many have posited that a child’s race or ethnicity alone can put them at greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.
Kim Eagle, a professor of internal medicine and health management and policy at the University of Michigan, was skeptical of this thinking. His hunch was that poverty was a much more important part of the equation.
And he saw an opportunity to parse the connections between childhood obesity, poverty, and race in Massachusetts, where public health officials have been collecting race, body mass index, and other data on about 112,000 students from about 70 of the state’s school districts. Eagle and colleagues decided to compare those data to students’ eligibility for free school lunch programs, an indicator of poverty, to find out what predicts whether a child might become overweight or obese.
“At first glance it looked like childhood obesity was more common among African-Americans or Hispanics,” Eagle says. When they accounted for poverty, though, the trend vanished. What his findings, which appeared in December in the journal Childhood Obesity, show is that “[obesity] is not about our race or ethnicity at all — it’s about resources,” he says.
It’s far from the first study to reach this conclusion. A 2012 paper published in the American Heart Journal that also looked at kids in Massachusetts found that prevalence of obesity and overweight in children rose in communities with lower household income.
While not entirely surprising, this is an important insight for our understanding of attitudes about childhood obesity. “When you have particular groups with higher rates of a problem, people start to think that they’re doing something wrong that’s specific to them,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “This [finding] helps fight against that bias.”
For Eagle and his colleagues, understanding that it’s poverty, not race, that can help explain obesity rates is also useful for addressing the crisis. Viewed through the lens of genetics or culture, the issue can feel intractable, Eagle says, but reframing it as a matter of resources points toward tangible solutions. “This is something communities can wrap their arms around,” he says. “It’s not something a child is born with.”
In 2004, Eagle founded Project Healthy Schools, a curriculum-based program aimed at curbing obesity in middle schoolers. Kids learn about nutrition, but they also get healthier options at school: Eagle’s team has taken on vending machines and cafeteria menus — nixing two-for-one hot dog days and Pop-Tarts for breakfast. They also work on sports programs and school gardens.
Eagle says students at first complained about salad carts and yogurt in the cafeteria, but over time, they’ve turned out to be hugely popular. “It’s not that students want to eat unhealthfully,” he says. “A lot of times [unhealthy food is] all they have.”
The program is now at more than 50 middle schools in Michigan. Eagle says while most kids of all income levels benefit within three months, he sees the most dramatic improvements in low-income students. And, he says, being vulnerable doesn’t mean you’re destined to be overweight and in poor health — if you intervene in communities with few resources, health outcomes can improve.
Brain study reveals mindfulness could help prevent obesity in children
Jan. 21, 2016, EurekAlert!
Mindfulness, described as paying attention on purpose and being in the present moment with acceptance, could be an effective way to help children avoid obesity. New research published in the journal Heliyon suggests that the balance in brain networks in children who are obese is different compared to healthy-weight children, making them more prone to over-eating.
Long-lasting weight loss is difficult; this may be because it requires changes in how the brain functions in addition to changes in diet and exercise. The authors of the study, from Vanderbilt University, say identifying children at risk for obesity early on and using mindfulness approaches to control eating may be one way to approach weight management.
Mindfulness has been shown to increase inhibition and decrease impulsivity. Since obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors may be associated with an imbalance between the connections in the brain that control inhibition and impulse, the researchers say mindfulness could help treat or prevent childhood obesity.
“We know the brain plays a big role in obesity in adults, but what we understand about the neurological connections associated with obesity might not apply to children,” explained lead author BettyAnn Chodkowski, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We wanted to look at the way children’s brains function in more detail so we can better understand what is happening neurologically in children who are obese.”
Chodkowski and her mentors, Ronald Cowan and Kevin Niswender, defined three areas of the brain that may be associated with weight and eating habits: the inferior parietal lobe, which is associated with inhibition, the ability to override an automatic response (in this case eating); the frontal pole, which is associated with impulsivity; and the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward.
They used data collected by the Enhanced Nathan Kline Institute – Rockland Sample from 38 children aged 8-13. Five of the children were classified as obese, and six were overweight. Data included children’s weights and their answers to the Child Eating Behaviour Questionnaire, which describes the children’s eating habits. The researchers also used MRI scans that showed the function of the three regions of the brain they wanted to study.
The results revealed a preliminary link between weight, eating behavior, and balance in brain function. In children who behave in ways that make them eat more, the part of the brain associated with being impulsive appears to be more strongly connected than the part of the brain associated with inhibition.
Conversely, in children who behave in ways that help them avoid food, the part of the brain associated with inhibition is more strongly connected compared to the part of the brain associated with being impulsive.
“Adults, and especially children, are primed towards eating more,” said Dr. Niswender, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “This is great from an evolutionary perspective – they need food to grow and survive. But in today’s world, full of readily available, highly advertised, energy dense foods, it is putting children at risk of obesity.”
“We think mindfulness could recalibrate the imbalance in the brain connections associated with childhood obesity,” said Dr. Cowan, from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Mindfulness has produced mixed results in adults, but so far there have been few studies showing its effectiveness for weight loss in children.”
Original source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/e-bsr011516.php
Study: Junk food ads make kids eat “significantly” more food
Jan. 26, 2016, Medical Daily
By Samantha Olson
The average child views more than 40,000 commercials a year, and all that exposure may have contributed to America’s growing childhood obesity epidemic. After an in-depth look at the relationship between food advertisements and food consumption, a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool confirmed ads have a negative impact on children’s eating habits. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, demonstrate how food advertisements go beyond influencing consumers what brand to choose, but also the amount they eat.
For the study, researchers scoured over 22 studies that were designed to examine the link between unhealthy food advertisements and food consumption. Participants were both children and adults. They measured the food consumption of those who were exposed to ads through the television or internet, and compared them to the food consumption of those who weren’t exposed to such ads. Children who were exposed to unhealthy food advertisements experienced a significant increase in their food consumption. When researchers looked at whether television ads had a greater effect than internet ads, they found no difference. Unhealthy food ads did not have the same impact on adults.
“Through our analysis of these published studies I have shown that food advertising doesn’t just affect brand preference — it drives consumption,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Emma Boyland, a researcher at the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health & Society, in a press release. “Given that almost all children in Westernized societies are exposed to large amounts of unhealthy food advertising on a daily basis this is a real concern.”
In a recent study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, researchers found if a child watched more than one hour of television a day, they were 39 percent more likely to become overweight and 86 percent more likely to become obese by the time they reached first grade.
“Small, but cumulative increases in energy intake have resulted in the current global childhood obesity epidemic and food marketing plays a critical role in this,” Boyland said. “We have also shown that the effects are not confined to TV advertising; online marketing by food and beverage brands is now well established and has a similar impact.”
Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foods high in calories, sugars, salt, and fat, but low in nutrients are highly advertised and marketed to target children and adolescents, while healthy food advertisements are less prevalent. Boyland believes her team’s findings should serve as an impetus for change and hopes it will lead to strategies that’ll reduce children’s exposure to food advertising altogether.
Investment in neighborhood parks may curb obesity rates, save costs
Jan. 21, 2016, MedicalXpress
By Marc Ransford
It may sound simple, but adding a neighborhood park or playground can lower children’s obesity rates and improve their physical fitness, says new research from Ball State University. And parks might reap immediate and long-term savings in health care.
“Do Neighborhood Parks and Playgrounds Reduce Childhood Obesity?” analyzed the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, which collected information on neighborhood parks and playgrounds as well as sidewalks and paths, community centers and children’s clubs in all 50 states.
Researchers compared the weight of children with access to outdoor recreational facilities to those without a nearby park. The effects varied with gender, race, household income, and neighborhood amenities, and the impact was greater among children in unsafe neighborhoods than those in safe neighborhoods.
“Neighborhood parks and playgrounds provide physical locations for children to engage in outdoor physical activity and to develop physically active lifestyles,” said Maoyong Fan, a Ball State economics professor who conducted the study with Yanhong Jin, a Rutgers University professor. “These parks simply make children more fit. The children get to play outdoors and enjoy life much more than those who don’t have access to such facilities.”
Fan believes that by adding parks and playgrounds, the United States could spend less on health care as a result of the reduction of childhood obesity.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in the nation has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. The percentage of obese children ages 6-11 increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. Over the same time, the percentage of obese adolescents ages 12-19 increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent.
Previous research estimates the annual direct medical costs in the U.S. for overweight children range from $3 billion to $14 billion. The hospital costs alone skyrocketed, from $35 million during 1979 to 1981 to $127 million during 1997 to 1999.
“Childhood obesity has long-lasting negative impacts on adult health, employment, productivity, and socioeconomic status,” Jin said. “From this perspective, the cost savings from playgrounds could be more significant in the long run.”
Researchers pointed out their recent study found that neighborhood parks and playgrounds may make children more fit as they decrease body mass index (BMI), as well as lower the risk of being overweight or obese. BMI quantifies the amount of tissue mass (muscle, fat, and bone) in an individual and is used to categorize that person as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.
Fan said adding parks to a neighborhood may reduce the probability of being overweight or obese by about 3 percentage points for boys and by 5 to 6 percentage points for girls.
The study also found:
- The effect is greater for ages 10-13 compared with ages 14-17.
- Existence of community centers and kids’ clubs reduces the effect of parks and playgrounds among both boys and girls, but sidewalks and pathways enhance the effect.