Childhood Obesity :: WE CAN prevent Childhood Obesity

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt today announced the launch of We Can!, Ways to Enhance Children?s Activity & Nutrition, a national education program from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help prevent overweight and obesity among youth ages 8-13. We Can! provides resources and community-based programs for parents, caregivers, and youth that focus on behaviors to encourage healthy eating, increase physical activity, and reduce sedentary time.

Overweight in children is clearly a public health crisis. Sixteen percent of children in the United States are carrying around excess weight – that?s 9 million children who are at increased risk for chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma, Secretary Leavitt said today at the Environmental Solutions to Obesity in America?s Youth conference organized by the NIH?s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

We need to act now to prevent obesity in our children, said NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D. Obesity is a high priority of the NIH. This year, we will spend about $440 million on a wide range of research on this important problem.

The science-based We Can! program helps parents teach their children to:

Eat a sufficient amount of a variety of fruits and vegetables per day
Choose small portions at home and at restaurants
Eat fewer high-fat foods and energy-dense foods that are low in nutrient value such as French fries, bacon, and doughnuts
Substitute water or fat-free or low-fat milk for sweetened beverages such as sodas
Engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week
Reduce recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day
There is new evidence that teaching children and their parents to make lifestyle changes like the ones proposed in We Can! can have an impact. A study published online today in the journal Pediatrics shows that children ages 8 to 10 who were enrolled in a behaviorally oriented nutrition education program with their parents and were taught to follow a diet low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol reported switching from calorie-dense and high-fat foods to foods that were lower in saturated fat, total fat, and dietary cholesterol. The children in the intervention adopted significantly better dietary habits over several years compared to their peers who received only general nutritional information. The results are from an ancillary study of the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC), supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH.

DISC demonstrates that children and their families can learn to enjoy healthy foods and to be selective about their food choices – habits that will hopefully stay with them throughout their lives, said NHLBI Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D. The study also showed that children and their families need the right tools to help them make positive lifestyle changes.

The new We Can! tools include a parents? handbook available in Spanish or English as well as a six-lesson curriculum offered through community-based sites. Tested curricula for children are also available for community organizations. In addition, a new online resource provides parents, caregivers, communities, national partners, and media up-to-date health information and tips on maintaining a healthy weight for families.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS, also spoke at the Environmental Solutions to Obesity Conference about the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity throughout life, beginning in childhood. Dr. Carmona noted that the 2005 agenda for the Office of the Surgeon General is The Year of the Healthy Child. Dr. Carmona said, As parents, we must lead by example. As a father, I work hard to teach my children about the importance of physical activity and healthy eating by not only talking with them but also setting the example for them. In fact, my kids and I often work out together. The behaviors that children learn from us now will last a lifetime. We must encourage our children to enjoy healthy foods and to be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day – not only through sports, but also by doing simple things like taking the stairs, riding their bikes, and just getting out and playing.

Founding partners for We Can! include Action for Healthy Kids, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Association for State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors, Black Entertainment Television (BET) Foundation, the International Food Information Council Foundation, North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Parents? Action for Children, the President?s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Univision. Supporting organizations include the American College of Sports Medicine, the Produce for Better Health Foundation, and the University of Michigan Health System.

More than 35 communities across the nation have already committed to implement We Can! programs with parents and children. Thirteen intensive community sites have been selected to receive training and to participate in thorough evaluations of the We Can! program:

State of Alabama, Coalition led by the Department of Public Health
Tamarac, Fla., City Parks and Recreation Department
Roswell/Athens, Ga., Roswell Recreation and Parks Department and Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services
Gary, Ind., Youth Services Bureau/Parks Recreation
South Bend, Ind., City Parks and Recreation Department
Montgomery County, Md., County Recreation Department
Boston, Mass., Boston Public Health Commission
Pittsfield, Mass., Operation Better Start, Berkshire Health Systems
Springfield, Mo., Springfield-Greene County Park Board
Las Vegas/Henderson, Nev., University of Nevada, Las Vegas Department of Nutrition Sciences and Cities of Las Vegas and Henderson
Benton County, Ore., Benton County Health Department
Lane County, Ore., Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth
Temple, Texas, The Children’s Hospital at Scott & White
More than 22 other community sites have committed to use and distribute We Can! program materials. NIH has designed We Can! so that local civic groups, parent groups, churches and others can adapt and use the program materials from the We Can! Web site.

We Can! was developed by the NHLBI and is being promoted in collaboration with three other NIH Institutes – the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Cancer Institute – as well as several national private sector organizations.

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