Environmental Factor, July 2005, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Brings Experts and Leaders Together to Examine Childhood Obesity
By Jennifer M. Browne
National and community leaders joined researchers to sort out how a child's environment increases the risk for obesity and to identify ways the environment can be changed to address this health epidemic. More than 700 people gathered for the June 1-2 conference, "Environmental Solutions to Obesity in America's Youth," sponsored by NIEHS.
NIEHS Director David Schwartz opened the conference with a challenge to the attendees. "When we study how kids eat, where they get their food, and what opportunities they have to run and play, we realize that we have very high health expectations for them," he stated.
"But how can we expect kids to make the right choices if they live in communities where they can't walk to school, choose healthy foods, or play in a park because of distance, traffic, lack of availability, or crime?" he asked.
During his keynote remarks, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced a new NIH childhood obesity prevention campaign "We Can! Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition." Focused on children ages 8 to 13, the secretary stated that the program will provide "resources and community-based programs for parents, caregivers, and youth that focus on encouraging healthy eating, increasing physical activity, and reducing sedentary time."
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona prefaced Leavitt's remarks with his own personal and professional insights into childhood obesity. "We must teach our children to enjoy healthy foods and be physically active for at least 60 minutes a day," he said. "Not only sports, but simple things like taking the stairs, riding their bikes, and just getting out and playing."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding and Lynn Swann, former professional football star and current chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, also addressed the challenges of childhood obesity.
NIEHS is working to determine how the environment affects obesity, and the conference highlighted environmental influences that led to the country's current weight problems. It brought together people from a variety of disciplines to share environmental interventions for both prevention and treatment of obesity.
North Carolina's Division of Public Health showcased its Eat Smart Move More...North Carolina, a statewide initiative promoting increased opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating through policy and environmental change.
A Wednesday night reception featured the Fabulous Steppers, a stomp-dance and drumming group from Fort Belvoir, Va., and exercise activities by the Washington Metropolitan YMCA. Washington D.C. Youth Mayor Tyrell Holcomb spoke on the importance of reducing childhood obesity and tested new video game exercise programs from Sony and Powergrid Fitness.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who lost 105 pounds and is now leading the Healthy Arkansas initiative, closed the conference. Referring to his place on the agenda, he joked, "When you're the last person at the end of a two-day conference, you know you are speaking to the true believers."