National and community leaders join researchers today 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.
"We all know that eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of physical activity will help kids maintain a healthy weight. But how can kids make the right choices if they live in communities where they can't walk to school or play in a park because of distance, traffic, or crime?" asks Dr. David Schwartz, director of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences ( NIEHS).
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Lynn Swann, former professional football star and current Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Surgeon General Richard Carmona, will join Schwartz at the conference to:
- Learn more about how the environment impacts childhood obesity rates.
- Build on promising programs to create safe, healthy communities that help kids make healthy choices.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who started the Healthy Arkansas initiative while losing 110 pounds, will be the closing keynote speaker.
"The ultimate goal is to create environments that help stem the obesity epidemic," said Schwartz. "This means shaping communities that promote healthy food choices and safe places to run and play." In the last three decades, obesity has doubled among preschoolers and adolescents and tripled among kids between the ages of 6 and 11.
The NIEHS is working to determine how the environment affects obesity. Throughout the conference, researchers, policy makers, community and transportation planners, builders, architects, teachers and school administrators, industry, non-profit, medical and health care personnel, and national, state and local leaders will fully explore how they can work together to find environmental solutions to America's childhood obesity problem.
Government and community leaders will share their success stories. Speakers from such organizations as Latino Health Access and California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness will discuss how they developed culturally appropriate environmental solutions to obesity in minority communities. North Carolina's Division of Public Health will showcase Eat Smart Move More...North Carolina, a statewide initiative promoting increased opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating through policy and environmental change.
Representatives from Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina transportation organizations will discuss how they improved children's health by making walking and bicycling to school safer, easier and more enjoyable.
Researchers from the National Center for Smart Growth, Louisiana State University, and Emory University will share their research and insights on how to effectively find and assess the connection between the environment and obesity.
Industry will also be part of the discussion. Sesame Street will join a panel discussion with Pepsico, Sony Computer Entertainment, Stonyfield Farm, child advocacy organization Children Now, youth fitness program Girls on the Run, and child health experts on the role industry and media can play in lowering childhood obesity rates.
Youth exercise and dance programs, including the Belvoir Steppers, a stomp-dance and drumming group from Fort Belvoir, VA, will be featured at the evening reception. New videogame-based exercise programs from Sony and Powergrid Fitness will also be demonstrated.
More information about NIEHS is at www.niehs.nih.gov. See the conference Web site. Funding for the conference is provided in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.