E-Newsletter
June 2010


SPOTLIGHT

PUBLICATIONS

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS


SPOTLIGHT

White House Task Force Issues Report on Fighting Childhood Obesity

May 12, 2010, The Washington Post

By Robin Givhan

In a tremendous show of administration muscle, Cabinet officials stood shoulder to shoulder onstage with Michelle Obama to reveal results of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity: a 124-page report laying out 70 recommendations and a gentle warning that, while the federal government can’t solve the obesity epidemic, it is prepared to take action where others don’t.

VIEW A PDF OF THE REPORT HERE

The task force, created by the president as part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which launched in February, defined success by the numbers: returning this country to a childhood obesity rate of 5 percent by 2030. The current rate is about 20 percent.

Members of the task force, chaired by White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, focused their efforts on five areas: prenatal care, empowering parents with nutritional information and community support, getting healthier foods into schools, increasing access to healthy foods in neglected urban and rural neighborhoods, and making sure that all kids are physically active.

The recommendations were unveiled at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where Barnes held up a copy of the report – 90 days in the making – with its multitude of sections and subsections. Cabinet officials lending their voices included Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. The Federal Trade Commission was represented by Chairman Jon Leibowitz; Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan appeared for the Agriculture Department; and White House adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, fresh from the health-care reform fight, was on hand. In her remarks, the first lady made clear that the report would serve as a full-fledged playbook.

“For the first time – this is the key – we’re setting really clear goals and benchmarks and measurable outcomes that will help tackle this challenge one step, one family and one child at a time,” she said.

The power to move them

While many of the recommendations to food manufacturers and marketers rely on the enormous bully pulpit of the federal government as the motivation to act, the task force noted that agencies reserve the right to use more extreme measures – subpoenas and new regulations – if need be. Leibowitz noted during a question-and-answer session that he has not ruled out regulatory action if companies don’t make headway in decreasing the amount of junk food advertised to kids. The report recommended that the federal and state governments “analyze the effect of state and local sales taxes on less healthy, energy-dense foods.” In other words, a sugar or fat tax.

“Now we just need to follow through with the plan. We just need everyone to do their part, and it’s going to take everyone,” the first lady said. “No one gets off the hook on this one.”

Obama underscored the importance of reauthorizing and expanding the Child Nutrition Act and getting more children enrolled in its summer meals programs so health gains made during the school year are not lost during vacation months. Merrigan later noted that while 11 million children receive subsidized school breakfasts and lunches, only 2.4 million are part of the summer program. That gap, she said, represents missed opportunities for improved nutrition.

Less is more

Recommendation 2.2: Labeling on packaged foods must be standardized.

Recommendation 2.4: Restaurants need to adjust portion sizes. “Value marketing has been so lucrative for restaurants,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “They can give you more food on a plate, charge you more and make a profit.”

Recommendation 2.6: Chains need to limit the licensing of popular characters to healthy foods.

Recommendation 2.7: The country needs a standard definition of precisely what is meant by “marketing to children.”

The report also encouraged women to breast-feed their children as an obesity preventative and urged communities to create work and child-care environments where that can happen.

The country also needs to rethink its approach to public housing, Donovan said, so sidewalks and bike paths are included in the planning. Street-facing porches should become part of the design standard because they give neighbors a direct view onto sidewalks and that helps improve neighborhood safety, he added. In addition to the suggestions – some stern, others more subtle – the committee set out markers to measure progress. For instance, it would like to see kids eating 75 percent of the USDA recommended serving of fruits by 2015. The goal is to hit 85 percent by 2020 and 100 percent by 2030.

The report does not go so far as recommending an end to certain government subsidies, such as for corn, which have been criticized by many good-food advocates. But it does offer the possibility of subsidizing the purchase of healthy foods. And while Sebelius made clear that the committee is not suggesting a federal tax on sugar, she said that some municipalities have embraced the idea.

The report was lauded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity, which has a long history of fighting youth obesity. And CSPI, the group that once called fettuccini Alfredo a “heart attack on a plate,” found the work encouraging. “It’s not the usual kind of vague government recommendations like we should improve school foods,” said Wootan, who was one of many community advisers, along with experts from RWJF. “It talks about increasing resources, increasing reimbursement rates, making sure there’s food service equipment so schools can cook.

“It’s not just the first lady saying these would be nice to do, but standing next to her are people from the departments with the resources to do something. It gives me hope that this is a national priority.”

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Original Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/ 2010/05/11/ AR2010051101792.html

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Childhood Obesity to Launch Early Summer

May 26, 2010

Obesity and Weight Management, currently under the editorship of James Hill, PhD and Holly Wyatt, MD from University of Colorado at Denver, is changing its mission and will become the premier journal and central forum on childhood and adolescent obesity, as part of the imperative to achieve swift and effective means to stem this epidemic. The newly titled journal, Childhood Obesity, published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., will make its debut early this summer.

Childhood Obesity will have a very broad mandate and will provide physicians, nurses, dietitians, diabetes educators, nutritionists, psychologists, educators, school nurses, health counselors, community organizers, and policymakers with effective prevention and management strategies, patient education and motivation tools, and research advances in the field.

The journal editorial board includes experts in the field such as Kelly D. Brownell, PhD; Stephen Daniels, MD, PhD; John Foreyt, PhD; Elizabeth Goodman, MD; David Heber, MD, PhD; Francine Kaufman, MD; David Ludwig, MD, PhD; Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN; Brian Wansink, PhD; Sandra Hassink, MD; Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD; Daniel Kirschenbaum, PhD; Sachiko T. St. Jeor, PhD, RD; Melinda S. Sothern, PhD, CEP; Mary Story, PhD, RD; Shikha S. Sundaram, MD, MSCI; and Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, LD.

The U.S. Surgeon General, Regina M. Benjamin, MD, will have a contribution in the inaugural issue.

Each issue will deliver action-oriented content including original peer-reviewed articles; provocative editorials and perspectives from opinion leaders; interviews with thought leaders; roundtable discussions; new weight management initiatives; safety and efficacy of treatment regimens; prevention and education; exploration of health disparities and cultural sensitivity; Q & A; successful obesity prevention school program profiles; new nonprofit and government initiatives and programs; patient motivation tools and handouts; Literature Watch; Web Watch; and other actionable news and developments.

“The strong response to the expanded focus of this important journal has been very gratifying,” said Mary Ann Liebert, president and CEO of the privately held publishing company that bears her name. “Childhood Obesity will play an important role in achieving the goal first lady Michelle Obama has of ensuring that this new generation shapes up to a healthy weight by the time they reach adulthood.”

“Mrs. Obama is right when she says that childhood obesity threatens the nation’s economic health,” said Ms. Liebert. ”The costs of health care for obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are enormous. Healthy people are productive people. Weight management starts in childhood. Childhood Obesity has a very broad mission which requires the active participation of health care providers in collaboration with educators, school nurses, health counselors, and groups such as parent-teacher organizations that must try to ensure that school meals are well balanced and foster the right eating habits.” Childhood Obesity will be published bimonthly in print and online.

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Original Source: http://www.liebertpub.com/products/product.aspx?pid=123

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PUBLICATIONS

Food Insecurity and Obesity: Is There a Relationship Among Children and Families?

May 4, 2010, RWJF Childhood Obesity

Seventeen million U.S. households are food insecure – without steady and dependable access to enough food to support active, healthy lives for all household members. Numerous studies have linked limited or uncertain access to adequate food to poorer nutritional, physical and mental health among adults and children.

Although food insecurity and obesity would appear to be contradictory issues, there is growing concern that they are related.

This research synthesis finds little evidence of a direct link for children. It reviews studies examining the possible relationship between food insecurity and obesity in the United States, with a focus on children and families. It also examines studies on whether federal nutrition assistance programs play any role in increased risk of obesity among youths and adults.

“Food Insecurity and Risk for Obesity Among Children and Families: Is There a Relationship?” was prepared by Nicole Larson and Mary Story of Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Key results highlighted in the synthesis include:

  • Although a few studies have found that children living in food-insecure households are more likely to be obese than children who have adequate food access, most studies have found no evidence of a direct relationship.
  • Women who experience food insecurity are more likely to be obese than women who are food secure. But it is unclear whether food insecurity promotes weight gain over time. Research among men has not consistently shown a relationship between food insecurity and increased weight.
  • Research does not suggest that use of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits promotes obesity among children.
  • Few studies have examined whether there is a relationship between participation in other food and nutrition assistance programs and risk for obesity in youths. However, there is little evidence that participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program increases risk for obesity.

VIEW A PDF OF THE SYNTHESIS HERE

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Health Reform Bill Addresses Childhood Obesity

The Center for American Progress has published a report to describe areas within health care reform bill that have the potential to address childhood obesity. They describe several provisions in the bill, including:

  • Improved nutrition labeling in fast food restaurants, which will list calories and provide information on other nutrients
  • The Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project, which gives grants to community-based obesity intervention programs
  • Community Transformation Grants, which gives grants to community-based efforts to prevent chronic diseases

Other parts of the new law take a broader approach and have the potential to address obesity because they are focused on prevention and because in their implementation they could make childhood obesity and its risk factors a focus for kids, and their parents and caregivers.

VIEW A PDF OF THE REPORT

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Childhood Obesity: Surveillance and Prevention in 2010

May 10, 2010, NHS Evidence

In April, the Institute of Medicine (IoM) released a consensus report titled “Bridging the Evidence Gap in Obesity Prevention: A Framework to Inform Decision Making.” The report is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Library for Public Health has published the third Annual Evidence Update on Obesity focusing on Childhood Obesity: Surveillance and Prevention. This evidence update covers childhood obesity: surveillance and prevention. It is an update of the evidence from March 2009 to February 2010. The previous evidence updates can still be viewed in the archive.

The “Childhood Obesity: Surveillance and Protection Annual Evidence Update 2010” aims to provide a presentation of expert opinion, supported by high quality recent research evidence and relevant public documents, published from March 2009.

VIEW THE PUBLICATION HERE

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Adolescents Overlooked by School Policies

Even as momentum to prevent childhood obesity increases across the nation, a new report from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) finds that school policies for older students are weak. The report, “Obesity Prevention Policies for Middle and High Schools: Are We Doing Enough?” concludes that states and school districts have not widely adopted policies that could help middle and high school students be more active and eat healthier.

Even though youth between the ages of 12 and 19 have been found to be less physically active, consume more junk food and high-calorie drinks, and are generally more obese than their younger brothers and sisters, there are fewer school food and physical activity/education policies to address their age group. However, the report notes, the need for physical activity and healthy eating does not decrease when a child enters adolescence. If anything, it increases.

“When we only examine childhood obesity as an epidemic of the youngest children, it is easy to get tunnel-vision and forget that far too many of these youngsters grow up to be overweight adolescents,” said NASBE Executive Director Brenda Welburn. “The bodies of students at this age go through so many changes, and youth are bombarded by so many harmful influences, that we need to explore and create policies that will help them develop into healthy young adults.”

The findings point to significant gaps in policy, not only for middle and high school students, but in some areas, for students at all levels. Slightly more than one-third of the states have a requirement regarding time spent in, and/or frequency of, physical education class in middle schools, and fewer than one in five did so for high schools. Less than one-quarter of states require comprehensive nutrition standards for competitive foods for middle and high schools with limits on fats, sugar, calories and/or portion sizes. Only 2 percent of districts and 4 percent of states prohibit the sale of other sugar-sweetened beverages such as sport drinks, sweetened teas and less-than-100 percent juice at the high school level.

“One of the take-away messages from this analysis is that governments at all levels need to work together to address the apparent gap in policy focus on middle and high school-level physical activity and nutrition-related policies,” said Jaime Chriqui, co-author of the study and senior research scientist at Bridging the Gap, a nationally recognized research program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and based at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Neither states nor district policies are strong enough on their own—a concerted approach is in order.”

VIEW A PDF OF THE REPORT

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RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

‘Thriving Infant’ Genes Increase Risk of Obesity Later in Life

May 26, 2010, InSciences Org.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) have discovered a genetic link between obesity later in life and rapid weight gain in babies from as young as 6 weeks old. The genes, known to cause obesity, also provided babies with greater protection against ‘failure to thrive’ – a potentially harmful condition of very slow weight gain. This genetic protection in early life could explain why many people are prone to being overweight as adults.

The research conducted by the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge followed more than 7,000 children from the ALSPAC Children of the 90s study, at the University of Bristol. The study analyzed the weights and heights of children aged 0-11 years. Measurements routinely collected at birth and by health visitors at 6 weeks, 9 months, 1 and a half years, and 3 and a half years old were used; while when the children were between 7 and 11 years old, they were weighed and measured at the ALSPAC clinics.

Children with just one extra copy of an obesity gene were 17 percent more likely to be obese in childhood, while their risk of ‘failure to thrive’ was reduced by 8 percent, compared to those with fewer of the genetic variants. However, children with multiple copies of the genes were at even greater risk of obesity.

“We know that the ability to put on sufficient weight during the first few weeks of life could have major advantages during this vulnerable period. What we’ve found is that the genes which help infants to thrive and put on weight could be one reason why some people are more prone to obesity later in life,” said lead author Cathy Elks from the MRC.

“Babies and children who gain weight rapidly during the first year of life are at increased risk of obesity, and while the influence may be genetic, parents should be mindful of this when considering their child’s diet and other environmental factors like exercise, to ensure they’re not placed at even greater risk,” said Ken Ong, pediatric endocrinologist at the MRC Epidemiology Unit and co-author of the study.

“Adult and childhood obesity are among the biggest public health challenges in the UK today, which is why the MRC funds research like ours to understand why it happens and hopefully prevent it. It’s very interesting to find that genetic factors play a key role, both in helping infants to thrive and mapping out our likelihood of obesity, and this new information should ultimately take us closer to finding new safe, effective ways to predict and prevent obesity.”

The research was in collaboration with the MRC, the University of Bristol, Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and the University of Cambridge. The paper, “Genetic markers of adult obesity risk are associated with greater early infancy weight gain and growth” is published in PLoS Medicine, www.plosmedicine.org.

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Original Source:
http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=9042

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More TV for Toddlers Means More Problems by Age 10

May 3, 2010, TIME

By Tiffany O’Callaghan

Studies have linked excessive TV-watching in young children to all manner of ills: an increased risk of childhood obesity and high blood pressure, problems with attention and language development, and a decrease in the quality of relationships between children and parents.

Now new research, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, adds weight to the argument against watching too much TV, finding that kids who got more screen time at preschool age were more likely by age 10 to be disengaged at school, get picked on by classmates, be overweight, and eat an unhealthy diet.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Montreal and the University of Michigan, the study analyzed data on 1,314 children who were involved in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. Parents reported on children’s level of TV consumption at 29 and 53 months, while both parents and teachers evaluated the children’s academic, social and lifestyle habits at age 10. The children’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity determined by a ratio of height and weight, was also noted.

The results, the study authors say, were striking. Based on their analysis, each additional hour of TV that children watched at 29 months corresponded with a 7 percent decrease in classroom engagement, a 6 percent drop in math achievement, a 13 percent decrease in physical activity on weekends, a 10 percent increase in video-game playing and a 10 percent greater likelihood of getting teased, assaulted or insulted by classmates. The authors say the findings underscore the importance of limiting TV-viewing during the toddler years, which are a critical time for development.

On average, the study found, children were watching nearly nine hours of TV per week at 29 months, and nearly 15 hours per week by 53 months. (Children with more educated mothers watched less; those from single-parent homes watched more.) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 watch no TV at all; children older than 2 should get no more than one to two hours of “quality programming” each day. Although the TV-watching habits of children in the current study were within or close to the limits set by the AAP, the data suggest the children still suffered negative consequences.

When it comes to television, it seems less is better. Even “educational” videos, such as the Baby Einstein series, have been shown not to work. The AAP and pediatricians encourage parents to minimize the TV toll by keeping televisions sets out of kids’ bedrooms, monitoring what they watch and watching TV with their children and discussing the content — at the very least, TV can help spur intellectually stimulating and engaging conversation within families.

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Original Source:
http://wellness.blogs.time.com/2010/05/03/negative-long-term-effects-of-too-
much-tv-as-a-toddler/?xid=rss-topstories

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Combating Childhood Obesity May Start in the Womb

May 14, 2010, Reuters Health

By Rachael Myers Lowe

Children whose mothers developed diabetes while pregnant are at increased risk of being overweight by age 11, a new study shows. The study, published in Diabetes Care also found that children born to obese mothers are more likely to have a weight problem than children born to lean mothers.

“The best advice is to get lean and fit before you get pregnant,” Dr. Lois Jovanovic of the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara, California, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

Last month, first lady Michelle Obama launched an action plan to combat childhood obesity. Number one in the list of recommendations was the need to stress the importance of starting a pregnancy at a healthy weight and maintaining a healthy weight throughout.

The new study, Jovanovic said, offers elegantly measured data to support this recommendation. “In order to prevent obesity in the next generation we have to do a whole lot for women in their childbearing years,” she said.

Diabetes that develops during pregnancy when there is no history of the disease is called gestational diabetes. Up to 8 percent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes. Being overweight, when combined with the “right” genes, is an important risk factor.

Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are often heavier at birth than children born to mothers without pregnancy-related diabetes. In the current study, Dr. Sandra Hummel and colleagues at the Technical University of Munich, Germany set out to determine the impact of mom’s gestational diabetes and weight status on the child’s risk of being overweight in childhood and becoming “insulin resistant,” a precursor to full blown diabetes.

They examined data from two large German studies involving 1,420 children born between 1989 and 2000. Two hundred thirty-two children were born to mothers with gestational diabetes, 757 to mothers with type 1, or “insulin-dependent,” diabetes and 431 to non-diabetic mothers. Blood samples and body measurements were taken several times until the children were 14 years old.

The researchers found that mother’s weight early in pregnancy was the strongest predictor of her child’s overweight status and resulting insulin resistance. At age 2, 8 and 11, far more children of obese mothers were overweight than children of non-obese moms, the researchers report in the journal Diabetes Care. At age 11, for example, 46 percent of children of obese moms were overweight compared with 12 percent of children of non-obese moms.

Nearly 31 percent of the children born to women with gestational diabetes were overweight by age 11 compared to less than 16 percent of the children of non-diabetic moms and moms with type 1 diabetes.

The fact that a mom was diabetic only partially explained her child’s tendency to be overweight. Adding obesity to the equation made a big difference leading the researchers to conclude that children born to obese women with gestational diabetes may be programmed in the womb to be overweight and prone to type 2 diabetes. The increased risk of being overweight seen in children of mothers with gestational diabetes (mainly seen in obese mothers) may be due to “a combination of genetic inheritance as well as prenatal programming,” Hummel noted in an e-mail to Reuters Health.

Because of the nature of the data, the study could not speak to the role lifestyle played in childhood obesity. More study is needed to determine that, Hummel said.

“The environment (dietary habits and physical activity shared between mothers and offspring) may be an important risk factor, which we guess is much more pronounced in later childhood/adolescence,” she added.

Jovanovic said the study’s findings offer a clear message to doctors.

“You don’t want to tell an obese woman she can’t get pregnant but if a doctor has an opportunity to help her get lean and fit before she gets pregnant that would be the best message from this paper,” she said.

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Original Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64D5JG20100514

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Study Reveals Soaring Obesity Among Kansas Girls

May 16, 2010, The Kansas City Star

By Alan Bavley

Nobody knows why for sure, but girls in Kansas have been gaining weight at an alarming rate.

From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of Kansas girls 10 to 17 years old who were obese nearly doubled, a new federal study shows.

The 91.4 percent increase in the obesity rate was the greatest experienced by any state and was too large to be considered a statistical fluke, the study’s lead researcher said.

“I think that it is definitely real,” said Gopal Singh, an epidemiologist with the Health Resources and Services Administration. “But why, that is quite puzzling.”

Indeed, the jump is a head-scratcher for experts who work with overweight kids in Kansas. Some were skeptical about the numbers.

Singh’s study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, used data from telephone surveys that asked tens of thousands of parents and guardians about the health of their children. More than 40,000 children from the 2003 and the 2007 survey were included in the study.

Nationwide, the researchers found statistically significant weight gain among girls. The prevalence of overweight among girls increased 9.4 percent and the prevalence of obesity by 17.6 percent. Changes among boys were smaller and not considered significant.

Among states, only Arizona, with a 90.9 percent increase in obesity among girls, approached Kansas.

But some experts said they weren’t seeing the same kind of numbers.

“Our own data wouldn’t support any sudden feeding frenzy among Kansas girls,” said Ann Davis, a University of Kansas Hospital psychologist who runs weight reduction programs for children at the hospital and in rural elementary schools.

But Davis has noticed that Kansas parents seem more willing now to acknowledge that their children have a weight problem, something particularly uncomfortable to do when the child is a girl.

In years past, Davis would be able to recruit only a few families from a rural school to take part in her program. Now she’s overwhelmed by the dozens who want to sign up.

“I’ve seen a tremendous shift in that, that my child is overweight or obese and I need to take action,” she said.

That greater recognition of weight problems may make for more accurate reporting by parents who are surveyed about their children, Davis suggested.

It’s not that a lot more girls are tipping the scales in the Sunflower State than in the rest of the country. In Kansas, 16.3 percent of girls were obese in 2007, not significantly higher than the national rate of 13.5 percent, the study found.

But in 2003, just 8.5 percent of Kansas girls were obese. The national rate that year was 11.5 percent.

The obesity rate for Kansas boys didn’t change significantly and at 16.2 percent in 2007 was similar to the national rate of 19.2 percent.

Obesity among Missouri boys and girls also held fairly steady, with rates comparable to the national numbers, according to the study.

“I don’t know any factor that would have girls gaining more weight than boys in the state,” said Mark Thompson, director of the Kansas Coordinated School Health Program, which works with school districts to develop nutrition and physical activity programs.

Thompson cited surveys of Kansas high school students that found overweight and obesity levels had remained fairly constant from 2005 through 2009.

Thompson said there was “a possibility there is a fluke” in Singh’s data.

“It’s not because of a statistical anomaly,” Singh countered.

Most of the increase in obesity in Kansas may have been among girls who were below high school age, he said. . . .

Singh’s study found wide variations in obesity rates among states, even after accounting for ethnic and economic differences.

Kids in Kansas, for example, were twice as likely to be obese as kids in Oregon, which had the lowest obesity rate.

Differences in the availability of parks and playgrounds and in state policies promoting healthy weight among children may play a role, Singh said. . . .

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Original Source: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/05/16/1949886/study-reveals-soaring-obesity.html

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS

IBM Lab to Develop Childhood Obesity Modeling Tools

May 5, 2010, San Jose Mercury News, NCCOR

By Brandon Bailey

Counting calories, tracking the effects of advertising and measuring the miles to the nearest fresh produce store may not seem like typical fields of study for scientists at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in South San Jose, which is better known for its pioneering work with disk drives and relational databases.

But the giant tech company is launching a new research effort to develop advanced computer modeling tools for studying complex public health issues. The effort has the goal of helping government policymakers and health care providers find the most effective formula for applying scarce resources to get the best results. Their first target is childhood obesity . . . as experts say excess weight in childhood is linked to a host of expensive health problems including heart disease and diabetes in adults.

“It seems simple to think about: Just eat less and exercise more. But in the end there are a whole lot of complicated things involved, including education, access to transportation, availability of parks and proximity to retail stores and fast-food restaurants,” said IBM scientist Paul Maglio.

Doctors and public health experts have already gathered enormous amounts of data on the links between obesity and socioeconomic or environmental factors. But Ross Hammond, a public health expert at the Brookings Institution, said researchers are only beginning to develop statistical tools for studying the interplay between different factors and evaluating which are most important.

“Most research on obesity has looked at only one or two factors at a time. There’s a real need for research that can try to synthesize data across different disciplines,” including economics and urban planning as well as medicine and psychology, said Hammond, who spoke last week at a seminar sponsored by IBM.

Hammond is not involved in the IBM project, but is working on similar work through the Comparative Modeling Network. This network is part of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research’s Envision Project.

The IBM effort involves a San Jose-based team of researchers that includes Maglio and Pat Selinger, a pioneering mathematician who helped create the first relational database program decades ago.

The goal, Selinger said, is to help answer the question: “If you have extra money to spend, would it be better to spend it on building another park, or having more physical education in schools, or improving school lunch programs?”

The research could also shed light on the effectiveness of food labeling or economic incentives for retailers to open grocery stores that are located near public transit stops, IBM said in a statement.

While there is no immediate business plan for the research, Maglio said, it fits with IBM’s broader evolution from a predominantly hardware company into a company that draws most of its revenue from selling software and providing a range of technology services to other corporations and public agencies.

Maglio, who has degrees in engineering and cognitive science, is part of an IBM group that focuses on “service science,” a multidisciplinary field that examines how people and organizations interact with computers and complex technological systems. The group includes computer engineers, social scientists and other experts.

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Original Source:
http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_15025345?nclick_check=1

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Food Companies Will Remove 1.5 Trillion Calories

May 17, 2010, The Associated Press

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Several of the nation’s largest food companies say they are going on a diet.

A coalition of retailers, food and beverage manufacturers and industry trade associations said Monday that they will take 1.5 trillion calories out of their products by 2015 in an effort to reduce childhood obesity. That equals about 12.5 calories per person per day.

The coalition, called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, pledged to reduce the calories as part of an agreement with a group of nonprofit organizations concerned with childhood obesity.

“This is precisely the kind of private sector commitment we need,” said first lady Michelle Obama, who earlier this year launched her own “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign.

Food companies concerned about national and local efforts to raise food taxes and a rising tide of lawmakers preparing to write anti-obesity measures have publicly endorsed the first lady’s message and pledged to make their foods healthier.

The industry foundation said the companies will introduce lower calorie foods, change product recipes and reduce portion sizes to achieve the goal, seeking to reduce 1 trillion of the 1.5 trillion by 2012.

Mrs. Obama has urged the food industry to speed up efforts to produce healthier foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy foods to children. In a speech to an industry association in March, she urged companies not to find creative ways to market products as healthy – including reducing fat and replacing it with sugar, or vice versa – but to increase nutrients as well.

To keep the companies accountable, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan philanthropic and research organization that works to improve the nation’s health, will evaluate how the groups’ efforts affect the number of calories consumed by children and adolescents.

“We’re confident their commitment to this cause is sincere and measurable -- and thus has real potential for impact,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “What remains unknown is what effect it will have on efforts to prevent childhood obesity.”

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has more than 80 members, including General Mills Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Hershey Co.

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Original Source: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Food-companies-will-remove-
15-apf-3581875452.html?x=0&.v=6

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Funds for School Healthy Food Program Dwindle

May 11, 2010, HeraldTribune.com

By Christopher O’Donnell

As they fight a childhood obesity epidemic, many area schools are losing a federal grant that helped encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables. The federal program made healthy foods available at snack time to replace cookies and chips, and helped teachers provide lessons on healthy eating to reach elementary students, nearly 20 percent of whom nationally are considered obese.

But because of a rule change, funding for the program will be cut in many school districts next year, including Sarasota and Manatee.

Sarasota County Schools will lose $340,000 in funding, meaning healthy snacks will be cut from seven schools.

In Manatee, funding will drop by almost $260,000 to $235,000. The program will be cut from eight schools but added at five other schools that have more than 80 percent of students eligible for free or reduced meals, one poverty threshold in schools.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are targeting the program at poorer schools where children typically have the poorest diets.

The program allocated $4.3 million for Florida schools for the next school year. But a record 330 schools applied, and only the 130 neediest schools will get the grant.

Among those missing out is Brentwood Elementary in Sarasota, where 61 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals. Teachers there had become adept at coaxing students to try new foods like starfruit, papaya and beets.

“Kids starting liking things they never thought they would,” said Principal John Weida.

Prine Elementary School in Bradenton took part in the program for three years but is also missing out next year.

“The whole school is devastated by it,” said Jan Baither, Prine cafeteria manager, who served pink grapefruit slices as a midday snack for students recently.

Two students from each class came to pick up the fruit for their classmates, loading up bagged slices into green canvas bags.

“When I come everyone says, ‘What is it? What is it?’” said 8-year-old Grayson Arrant.

Snacks at elementary schools are typically provided by parents who take turns providing snacks for the whole class. Some provide healthy items, but others offer chips or cookies.

Schools in the program must offer healthy snacks at least three days a week to comply with program rules. The fruit and vegetables must be served outside lunchtime and must be uncooked.

Cafeteria staff and teachers use snack time to reinforce lessons about healthy eating. They said the snacks encourage healthy eating habits.

Prine Principal Guy Grimes said sales of doughnuts and cookies at meal times have fallen since the school began the program.

Student Joseph Dutra hated green beans until he tried them at school.

“I never ate them when I was 9 or 10; I used to hate vegetables,” said Joseph, 12.

School officials hope to continue the healthy food program on their own if they can obtain local corporate sponsorship. District officials in Sarasota are also looking for alternative funding.

One fifth-grade class at Prine wrote a letter asking state officials to save their healthy snacks. Hundreds of other students have signed the letter.

“Some of us don’t get great food at home, and the healthy snacks are sometimes the best things we eat each day,” the students wrote.

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Original Source: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20100511/ARTICLE/
5111032/2055/NEWS?Title=Funds-for-school-healthy-food-program-dwindle

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Bill Would Enforce Stricter Beverage Rules

May 24, 2010, San Francisco Chronicle

Licensed day care centers would be prohibited from serving children drinks with natural or artificial sweeteners under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

Juice could be served only once a day and would have to be 100 percent juice, while milk served to children age 2 and older would have to be 1 percent lowfat.

Children with medical needs or whose parents pack their own drinks would be exempt from the rule if the bill is signed into law.

Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica says the bill will help fight childhood obesity. The bill states that “willful or repeated” violations would be a misdemeanor.

AB2084 passed the Assembly on a 42-21, party-line vote and moved to the Senate.

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Original Source: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/05/24/state/n151929D54.DTL&type=health

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