Whether rural, suburban, or urban, most communities in the United States are affected by rising rates of childhood obesity. Healthy eating and physical activity are strongly associated with obesity prevention and are essential to good health. The food and physical activity choices made every day affect short-and long-term health and are directly related to weight outcomes. Eating right and being physically active may reduce the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, certain cancers, and being overweight or obese (HHS and USDA, 2005). These diseases and conditions impact individuals and their quality of life and are associated with increasing health care costs that place a burden on government and businesses. Childhood provides the opportunity to establish a solid foundation that can lead to healthy lifelong eating patterns (IOM, 2005). Prevention of childhood obesity is essential to the promotion of a healthier and more productive society (IOM, 2005). In addition, many diet-related chronic diseases have their origins during childhood and adolescence.
Local governments make many of the decisions that affect access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity and therefore play an important role in preventing childhood obesity. Because many children in cities and towns nationwide are facing the health and emotional consequences of childhood obesity, it is incumbent upon local governments to strengthen the role they play in providing their children and youth with access to and availability of healthy choices.
Local government agencies have traditionally been the primary overseers and implementers of public health programs and policies. The functions of local governments include leadership, provision of program resources, funding, evalua-
tion, monitoring and research, and dissemination and use of evidence from evaluations (IOM, 2007). Local governments across the nation comprise a variety of departments, including public health, public works, transportation, parks and recreation, public safety, planning, economic development, housing, and tourism. These departments’ policies and programs can affect childhood obesity directly and indirectly. For example, reducing vehicle traffic in a city for the purpose of reducing air pollution may also make it easier for people to walk to their destinations. Likewise, as noted in Chapter 1, policies and programs developed to prevent childhood obesity can meet other local government goals as well. For example, after-school recreation programs implemented to increase physical activity with obesity prevention in mind can help meet crime prevention goals by reducing opportunities for youth to be victims or perpetrators of crime. Since in some cases it is a great deal easier for a local government official to advocate for youth-related crime reduction measures than for childhood obesity prevention interventions, taking advantage of these multiple positive outcomes can be useful. Box 2-1 describes one city’s sustainability plan that, although not focused explicitly on childhood obesity, contains many childhood obesity prevention strategies.
HOW LOCAL GOVERNMENTS CAN HELP
Local government leadership is critical to both reducing and preventing further increases in childhood obesity. Leadership requires galvanizing of political commitment, policy development, prioritized funding, and coordination of programs (Baker and Porter, 2005). Officials at the local level can work to adopt policies and pass ordinances that enable communities to have accessible and affordable options for healthy food and physical activity. Throughout the United States, mayors, city council members, and other local officials have initiated and led city-wide campaigns and followed through on commitments to lead community walks and other fitness activities, in addition to providing leadership through innovative policy and program changes. Box 2-2 describes the example of a mayor who spearheaded a comprehensive health campaign in his small, rural town. Support for community coalitions focused on improving wellness is an additional key leadership contribution.
The City of Baltimore was named among the top ten most sustainable U.S. cities in SustainLane’s 2008 U.S. City Rankings. Among the factors making Baltimore a national leader was the creation of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and Commission on Sustainability. Baltimore Councilman Jim Kraft sponsored legislation to create both the office and the commission. The 21-member commission represents community organizations, local nonprofits, labor, private industry, local institutions, and city government. It was charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive Sustainability Plan to help turn Baltimore into a cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer city. The plan is a roadmap for future legislation, educational programming, and public and private initiatives involving sustainability.
The commission created working groups, community conversations, a youth strategy, and a sustainability forum to gather input from all sections and perspectives within Baltimore. Ultimately, more than 1,000 citizens were engaged over an eight-month period. The commission gathered and analyzed ideas, studied best practices, and developed goals for a more sustainable city. The resulting Sustainability Plan lays out 29 priority goals within seven chapters: Cleanliness, Pollution Prevention, Resource Conservation, Greening, Transportation, Education and Awareness, and Green Economy. Each of the 29 goals is accompanied by a set of recommended strategies.
The plan lays out a broad agenda that, in addition to recommending strategies for reducing pollution and conserving energy, offers recommendations for creating a healthier community. Many of these strategies relate to food access, transportation, and the built environment and so may help reduce and prevent obesity. Implementation of the plan not only will make Baltimore a cleaner, greener, healthier, and safer city, but also has the potential to reduce and prevent childhood obesity.
SOURCE: Baltimore Sustainability Plan, http://www.baltimorecity.gov/government/planning/sustainability.
Implement Policies, Ordinances, and Programs
Local governments are in a unique position to improve the health of their communities by advancing local policies that have an impact on the availability of healthy foods and places for physical activity and that also limit less healthy options. Local governments have jurisdiction over land use, food marketing, community planning, and transportation. Today, communities with the highest rates of obesity often are places where residents have the fewest convenient opportunities to purchase
Comprehensive Obesity Prevention Efforts in a Rural Setting
Shelby is a rural town in eastern Montana with a population of approximately 3,000. Mayor Larry Bonderud has held his position for 18 years. After several years of attending conferences and reading about the environment and its effects on public health, Mayor Bonderud was inspired to make some significant city-wide changes. Like most rural towns, Shelby does not have a large public health budget. However, with the leadership of the mayor, the community has been able to initiate and implement a number of obesity prevention strategies:
SOURCE: Baehr, 2008.
nutritious, affordable food and more opportunities to purchase less healthy choices (Flournoy and Treuhaft, 2005). As described in Chapter 4, relevant policy measures such as those focused on zoning of farmers’ markets, location of supermarkets, limitations on advertising of unhealthy products, and requirements for menu labeling in restaurants all have the potential to affect consumption of fruits and vegetables and/or weight. Box 2-3 details how New York City enacted its menu labeling legislation, becoming the first city in the United States to mandate such labeling.
Similarly, Chapter 5 describes actions that local governments can take to increase physical activity through policy measures that affect the design of communities, access to parks and recreation facilities, and availability of sidewalks with safe pedestrian crossings. These actions affect the built environment, defined as all of the man-made elements of the physical environment, including buildings, infrastructure, and other physical elements created or modified by people, and the functional use, arrangement, and aesthetic qualities of these elements. The built environment can influence decisions on whether to be physically active. Evidence shows that people in activity-friendly environments are more likely to be physically active and have a lower risk of obesity (Frank et al., 2004). For example, children with sidewalks in their neighborhood and playgrounds in close proximity have more opportunities to be physically active. Local governments can influence community development and planning; zoning; and availability of, access to, and maintenance of parks and recreation facilities. In addition, reviewing transportation policies in a community can lead to improved access to opportunities for physical activity. Box 2-4 highlights the opportunities local governments have to provide support and resources to local organizations working to create healthy environments.
DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES, DIFFERENT NEEDS
As discussed in Chapter 1, each town, city, township, or community is unique, and only local government leaders can identify the policies and programs that accord with the resources and interests of their jurisdiction. Differences in geography, population, resources, and size present both challenges and opportunities for childhood obesity prevention efforts. Furthermore, local governance structures vary, differing in the extent of the local government’s jurisdictional authority over schools, zoning, transportation policies, and many other issues. Sources of budget revenue and budget priorities and commitments also differ.
Rural, suburban, and urban communities all have different needs with respect to childhood obesity prevention. According to the U.S. Census,
Menu Labeling Legislation
New York City has a population of more than 8 million, with millions of meals served in restaurants every day. In 2006, the New York City Board of Health unanimously voted to require chain restaurants to place calorie information on menus as a way to inform consumers about the health content of the food choices on the menu. New York City was the first city in the United States to require such action by restaurants. Menu labeling initiatives are being introduced across the country, but thus far, only New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Multnomah County in Oregon, and the states of California and Massachusetts have passed such legislation, and only New York City and Seattle have seen menu labeling go into effect. By April 2008, all chain restaurants in New York City with more than 15 outlets were required to include calorie information on menus and menu boards.
Since the 1960s, expenditure on foods eaten away from home has steadily increased (ERS, 2008). Eating out is associated with higher calorie intake and obesity (Duffey, 2007). Children consume almost twice as many calories when they eat restaurant meals compared with meals at home (770 vs. 420 calories) (Thompson et al., 2004). Many health professionals believe that menu labeling is a way for our “eating out” society to gain insight into restaurant food choices, just as nutrition labeling did for packaged foods. Studies have shown that most people cannot successfully estimate the calorie content of menu items, even when it comes to “healthy-sounding” items such as salads (Burton et al., 2006). Proponents believe that a consumer will choose healthier food if given nutrition information at the point of purchase. Some restaurants may even change the size or ingredients of menu items if required to display nutrition information.
Research is limited, but thus far supports this viewpoint. In a 2007 New York City survey, more than one-third of patrons at a popular fast-food restaurant that posts calorie information reported that this information affected their purchase. Patrons who saw the calorie information posted at the restaurant purchased, on average, food with 99 fewer calories compared with patrons who did not see that information posted (Basset et al., 2008). As more local health departments follow New York City’s lead, there will be additional research on this possible obesity prevention strategy.
SOURCE: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, www.nyc.gov/html/doh.
Encouraging Local Organizations to Be Fit
Austin, the capital of Texas, is a midsized city with a culturally diverse population of about 718,000. Austin is known for being socially progressive and health conscious, with its popular hike-and-bike trail, many farmers’ markets, and the country’s first Whole Foods supermarket. So Mayor Will Wynn was surprised to see Austin’s poor ranking in a Men’s Fitness magazine list of fittest cities a few years ago. He was inspired to form the Mayor’s Fitness Council in October 2004 to help Austin become the fittest city in the country by 2010.
The council works toward increasing physical activity and improving nutrition throughout Austin. It consists of three committees that meet frequently to develop and implement programs. One such program is the Partner Certification Program, which encourages local organizations to help their employees or members become more fit. Certified Partners can include virtually any organization. Membership includes resident advocates from the public and private sectors, neighborhoods, schools, businesses, health care entities, and the faith-based community. Organizations can be certified by increasing:
The council developed the Austin Fitness Index, a survey tool that helps organizations monitor their employees’ or members’ health and track their improvements over time. The city assists companies that apply for the program in instituting programs and policy changes to help their employees become more fit. The city hopes that the benefits of increased employee health, such as better attitudes, productivity, and individual and organizational performance, will inspire many local organizations to become Certified Partners.
SOURCE: The Austin Fitness Index, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/afi/default.htm.
approximately 55 million people (an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population) live in rural communities spread across 85 percent of the United States. Children living in rural areas are recognized as being at high risk for childhood obesity (Dillon and Rowland, 2008); currently, 16.5 percent of rural children and 20.4 percent of rural adults are obese (Patterson et al., 2004). Challenges faced by some rural community residents include relative poverty; the need to travel long distances, requiring increased automobile use; fewer walking or biking routes; a lack of public transportation; and a lack of supermarkets.
Suburban communities are the fastest-growing areas in the United States. These communities have higher-density populations than rural communities, but may not always have convenient access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity. Research has shown that several features of the suburban built environment, such as poor street connectivity and lack of sidewalks, are associated with decreased physical activity (Lopez and Hynes, 2006). However, new development offers the opportunity to plan healthier communities. The design of many new planned suburban communities includes “smart-growth” features such as sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, grocery stores and shops within walking distance, trails and bike paths, and easy access to public transportation.
Urban communities often have dense neighborhoods with excellent street connectivity, and streets almost always have sidewalks. Yet these communities also have poor economic conditions, unsafe streets, lack of access to nutritious food or grocery stores, and a high density of fast-food restaurants.
As each town or city government examines what it can do to promote health and wellness opportunities for its residents, it is important for local officials to consider the context and identify those strategies and actions most suited to their jurisdiction. Chapters 4 and 5 provide a broad array of actions from which local officials can choose to help initiate childhood obesity prevention efforts in their community. While a comprehensive approach is ideal, implementing even one or two actions could make an evident difference in the health of the community.
STEPS IN PLANNING LOCAL CHILDHOOD OBESITY PREVENTION EFFORTS
Local governments should consider the following steps as they plan childhood obesity prevention efforts:
Conduct a community assessment
Identify top policy priorities best suited to local conditions
Identify funding sources
Think about program sustainability
Evaluate programs and policies
Conduct a Community Assessment
Local government officials should consider initiating their efforts by conducting a community assessment of access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity to determine where the community stands with respect to providing an optimal environment to support the healthy weight of children. Examples of community characteristics to include in this assessment are
Location of grocery stores and supermarkets
Location of fast-food restaurants
Location of corner stores
Location of vending machines
Location of farmers’ markets
Location of food carts
Location of water fountains in public facilities
Extent of advertising of unhealthy food
Statistics on and perceptions of safety
Ease and safety of walking to school
Location of walking and biking trails
Condition and connectivity of sidewalks
Condition and accessibility of youth activities and sports
Location and availability of public transportation to grocery stores and recreational facilities
Participation rates in federal nutrition assistance programs
Location of community gardens
Using this and other relevant information, local governments can identify what features that promote healthy weight already exist in their community and what is still needed. Policies and programs can then be created to meet those needs.
In addition, it is important to identify resources and databases already in existence that can be used to learn more about the community. For example, information related to the health of the community can be drawn from a number of local government entities, including the zoning and planning department, the department of health, the tax assessor, schools and the transportation department, the county extension office, and mental health services. In addition, an academic
partner from a local university or health department can provide necessary epidemiological or statistical support. Figure 2-1 and Box 2-5 illustrate the use of mapping to assess community health statistics.
Community involvement is vital to implementing effective childhood obesity prevention efforts. If people feel free to speak and are listened to, they may reveal barriers to healthy eating and physical activity or identify critical community needs of which local government officials and staff are not aware. Local government officials and staff also should consider developing, co-convening, or supporting a community partnership that can help determine needs, prioritize actions, and contribute to advancing community efforts on obesity prevention. Many national youth organizations with local chapters across the country could be helpful, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, youth sports and recreation leagues, YMCA and YWCA, 4-H clubs, and Boy and Girl Scouts. In addition to or in conjunction with such partnerships, an interagency planning commission can include effective representation of the key local departments and agencies with jurisdiction for ensuring action and fostering sustained efforts. Box 2-6 provides a brief overview of the community engagement and partnership efforts found to be effective in King County, Washington.
Communicating Community Statistics with Maps
Maps allow local officials to relate characteristics of a community to its geographic layout. Considering that the place where one lives has a significant effect on health, it is helpful to understand and represent data about that place visually. Mapping using geographic information systems has been shown to be a critical tool in performing a community assessment. Maps are an efficient, low-cost way to explain complex statistics associated with particular places, and from a different vantage point than is gained through words. In addition, when seemingly unrelated data are represented spatially, it is often possible to make associations that might otherwise not have been apparent. Maps can highlight farmers’ markets, access to food stores, parks, places to walk, public transportation routes, shops, access to health care, and other features that help provide for a healthy community.
When performing an assessment of diet-related diseases, New York City collected data on fruit and vegetable consumption, obesity rates, and diabetes rates and represented those data spatially through maps. Comparison of these maps revealed a clear visual association between the neighborhoods that consumed the fewest fruits and vegetables and those with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. This information provided a clear target for where the city should direct its Green Cart program, a program that encouraged street vendors to sell low-cost fruits and vegetables. Using maps of the city showing such factors as income, population density, automobile access, and access to fruits and vegetables, the city also developed a map illustrating areas most in need of grocery stores. The Community Farm Alliance performed a similar investigation of Louisville, Kentucky. Through spatially represented data, the organization was able to demonstrate a significant lack of grocery stores in certain areas.
Maps can be used as tools in communicating such data to important stakeholders. The Food Trust in Philadelphia created maps, much like those mentioned previously, indicating the critical areas of the city in need of supermarkets. Showing these maps helped engage public- and private-sector leaders in acting on this issue.
SOURCES: Flournoy, 2009; Karpyn, 2009; Thomases, 2009.
Developing a Community Partnership
The King County Food and Fitness Initiative is a community coalition formed in 2006. The vision for the initiative is “creating vibrant communities that support access to locally grown, healthy, affordable food and safe and inviting places for physical activity and play—for everyone.”
This initiative is a strategy for social change not only to address healthy eating and physical activity, but also to move toward social and health equity and support families and children. Its mission is to foster collaborative leadership among diverse community partners so as to create long-term, innovative strategies that can establish equitable access to resources and choices that promote health. To this end, the initiative actively engages with communities and youth in planning, decision making, and activities.
SOURCE: King County Food and Fitness Initiative, http://king.wsu.edu/foodandfarms/KCFFI.html.
Identify Top Policy Priorities
By assessing current food and physical activity environments and involving constituents in determining community needs, local government officials and staff can identify top policy priorities for their community. An assessment of the local environment for obesity prevention will help identify community assets, focus resources, and refine implementation plans.
Identify Funding Sources
Sufficient and sustained funding is needed for many new programs and initiatives. However, innovative use of leadership and convening opportunities can further obesity prevention efforts at low or nominal cost. For example, a mayor’s leadership, using the bully pulpit of his or her office, is “free” but can positively influence the actions and culture of a community. A county commissioner’s support in convening concerned community members or providing support to fledgling coalitions can translate into strategic community actions for a relatively minimal investment. Developing and enacting policies and ordinances, including those that contribute to childhood obesity prevention, is part of the operating costs of local governments. As illustrated in Box 2-7, a potential first step in preventing and
Organizing to Form a Food Policy Advisory Committee
Access to healthy food for some neighborhoods in New Orleans has long been a problem, even before Hurricane Katrina, but the storm dramatically reduced access in many areas of the city. In 2006, about a year after the storm hit, fewer than half the supermarkets that had been open before the storm were operating. Recognizing the difficulties of accessing healthy foods and the potential to make long-term changes, several community groups began meeting to address the issue. One coalition of groups, Grow New Orleans, led by the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, sought to improve community food security and expand the use of locally produced foods. A second group, the Healthy Eating Coalition, led by Tulane University’s Prevention Research Center, was focused on improving access to healthy foods.
The two groups joined forces and, rather than form an autonomous food policy council, decided to work within the context of city government. Advice was sought and received from The Food Trust, an organization that has had substantial success in improving retail food access in Pennsylvania. Discussions began with members of the Special Development Projects and Economic Development Committee, a standing committee of the New Orleans City Council. The initial goal was to receive authorization to form an advisory committee to the City Council, a committee that would be charged with preparing a strategy report on how to improve retail access.
In April 2007, eight organizations—the Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC), the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans, the Renaissance Project, Steps to a Healthier Louisiana/New Orleans, the Louisiana Public Health Institute, the City of New Orleans Health Department, the New Orleans Food and Farm Network, and The Food Trust—made their case before the Economic Development Committee, which unanimously endorsed the idea. The full City Council approved a resolution authorizing creation of a Food Policy Advisory Committee, and charged it with making recommendations for addressing the lack of access to healthy food in New Orleans. The Council tasked Tulane’s Prevention Research Center with empaneling the committee and requested a final report within 8 months.
Key members from each of the local organizations served as a staff for the Food Policy Advisory Committee. The committee itself was made up of 32 leaders from various sectors, including the private retail food sector, both chain and independent grocers; farmers’ markets and local agriculture; lending and grant-making institutions; retail suppliers and associations; nonprofit organizations focused on hunger, poverty, children, health, and local food; public health agencies and city government; and academia. Four general meetings were held over the course of several months. An additional three themed meetings focused on the city’s planning process, on retail issues, and on regional food and farmers’ markets. By the fourth and final general meeting, a list of 10 recommendations had been drafted that summarized the committee’s discussions.
In January 2008, a final report based on these recommendations was presented to the City Council. The City Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing support for the recommendations and approving creation of a task force to develop strategies for their implementation. The task force, formed from the Food Policy Advisory Committee, has helped advance specific strategies for the city, focusing especially on a fresh food retail incentives program. The task force has also met with representatives of the New Orleans Police Department to discuss security for grocery stores and has recommended policies for inclusion in the city’s ongoing Master Plan Project. A central purpose of the task force is to maintain momentum and accountability for policy implementation.
SOURCE: Diego Rose, Tulane University, http://www.sph.tulane.edu/PRC/Files/FPAC%20Report%20Final.pdf.
reversing childhood obesity—the creation of a food, physical activity, or health policy council—requires minimal funding and can set the stage for successful prevention efforts.
As discussed earlier, building on the goals and actions of other policy changes can further the obesity prevention agenda. For example, advocating for policies and programs developed to meet goals in a city’s sustainability plan (Box 2-1) may provide funding for efforts that meet obesity prevention goals as well. A childhood obesity prevention effort is likely to find broader financial support if it meets the diverse needs of other stakeholders in the community. In addition, it is important to remember that federal nutrition assistance programs—such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly the Food Stamp Program), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the Summer Food Service Program, Afterschool Snacks, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program—are dependable sources of federal funds that provide millions of dollars to communities across the country. These programs can fund healthy meals and snacks—a foundation upon which children’s anti-obesity programs can be developed—for example, by providing nutritious meals and related nutrition education to children in summer recreation programs through the Summer Food Service Program, or using farmers’ markets (which allow for the use of SNAP benefits in purchasing food) to recruit community
members to be involved in broader childhood obesity prevention efforts. Other federal programs (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Communities Programs, housing assistance, health care benefits and community health centers, and transportation grants) can provide opportunities for implementing efforts directly relevant to childhood obesity prevention.
Cultivation of funding sources should encompass careful attention to grant opportunities. This includes monitoring federal and state funding that is directly related to obesity prevention or that can help fund projects that meet several local government goals, including childhood obesity prevention. Community and locally based foundations are often a good place to start. Creative thinking is key to fundraising efforts, as the example in Box 2-8 demonstrates. It is often necessary to combine a number of funding streams to achieve an objective, and public–private partnerships may also be fruitful avenues to explore.
Finding Funding and Resources
The Parks Department in Henderson, Texas, an east Texas county seat of almost 12,000 people, determined there was significant interest among important groups, such as the school board and civic organizations, in an expanded and improved walking and bicycle path network throughout the city. When confronted with the reality of a lack of resources in its budget, the department was able to locate resources from diverse sources. In addition to benefiting from city funds generated by sales taxes, the city learned of a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which provides park development grants to match 50 percent of local contributions. The city also needed access to land on which to build these paths. Instead of securing funding to buy the land, the city coordinated a “land swap” with a private land owner for land near the city’s park, in exchange for city-owned land elsewhere in Henderson. Fortunately, the department was able to count this land as an in-kind contribution toward its matched funding grant with the Parks and Wildlife Department. These creative funding solutions have been successful in making it possible to build several miles of paths, which the city intends to be only the beginning of a more extensive network to be completed by 2018.
SOURCE: Barrow, 2009.
Think About Program Sustainability
Childhood obesity is a health problem that does not develop in a short period of time, and preventing obesity requires healthy food choices and sustained physical activity throughout one’s lifetime. Changes in food and physical activity environments require a culture change, which, while more difficult to accomplish, will have a more lasting impact than short-term promotional programs. The key to sustainability for childhood obesity efforts is, to the extent possible, to make them part of the community infrastructure. Policy changes that are embodied in law in the form of ordinances, regulations and standards, zoning laws, taxes, and the like are more likely to be sustainable. Changes in the built environment—for example, the building or repair of sidewalks or the development of parks and playgrounds—by their very nature are sustainable. Community involvement in identifying, prioritizing, and effecting changes also plays an important role in sustainability because it encourages individuals, families, and organizations to take ownership of the changes and become invested in maintaining them for the long term.
Evaluate Programs and Policies
To ensure that obesity prevention initiatives reach the intended populations and have a positive impact, it is important to include provisions for evaluating their reach and effectiveness. Well-conducted evaluations allow policy makers to allocate limited resources to tackling the problem in the most efficient ways for their community. Furthermore, regular evaluation of obesity prevention actions allows local governments to adapt policies to changing demographics of the local population and provide the best use of resources. Information and lessons learned from these efforts can help local governments develop even better programs and policies. Moreover, because evidence is lacking on the effectiveness of many promising childhood obesity prevention strategies, program and policy evaluations add to the knowledge base and allow other communities and program planners to see what does and does not work. In cases where full-scale evaluations are unlikely, requiring the establishment of a system to collect data on program operations makes future research and evaluation possible. Box 2-9 illustrates an innovative way of tracking obesity rates.
Partnering with universities is an excellent way for a local government agency to collect information in the community and monitor and analyze ongoing efforts. For example, Somerville, Massachusetts, partnered with Tufts University to develop and evaluate a comprehensive childhood obesity initiative called Shape Up Somerville (see Box 2-10).
Using Immunization Registries to Track Obesity Rates
The state of Michigan and San Diego County, California, recently made the decision to use their existing electronic immunization registries as a way to track obesity rates among children. The state and county will add data fields for height and weight to the web-based registry, which will be used to calculate body mass index (BMI), a commonly used measure for defining overweight and obesity. The data gathered from such systems can be extremely valuable in tracking the obesity epidemic and evaluating the effectiveness of ongoing obesity intervention programs, something not currently possible in these jurisdictions.
SOURCE: Altarum Institute, http://www.altarum.org.
CALL TO ACTION
Children need a healthy environment in which to learn, engage, and thrive in a community. Local government can be an integral part of the response to the childhood obesity epidemic. At the local level, government has the authority to authorize and appropriate funds for policies and programs that promote healthy eating and active living. Many existing policies can be amended to increase their health impact. New programs and policies can be formulated based on the best available evidence and examples from across the country. These programs and policies should be chosen based on the needs and characteristics of individual communities. This report highlights a number of programs and policies in the form of case studies; many more such examples of local governments that are translating childhood obesity prevention strategies into action could be cited. Chapters 4 and 5 present the most promising strategies and actions for consideration and evaluation by local governments.
Comprehensive Obesity Prevention Efforts in an Urban Setting
Shape Up Somerville (SUS) is a city-wide campaign to increase daily physical activity and healthy eating through programming, physical infrastructure improvements, and policy changes. It began as a community-based research study at Tufts University targeting first to third graders. The study demonstrated that city-wide changes could have a positive effect on weight gain among children (Economos et al., 2007). The campaign now targets all segments of the community, including schools, city government, civic organizations, community groups, businesses, and others who live and work in Somerville, Massachusetts—a densely populated, ethnically diverse town of 77,000 located two miles north of Boston. Overall efforts and successes of the program since its inception include the following:
Now, 5 years later, SUS is run by the City of Somerville, led by Mayor Joe Curtatone. The mayor has been a key proponent of the program since its inception. Today, a director and a coordinator work on active and healthy living programs supported by the health department and a task force that is a collaboration of more than 11 initiatives and 25 stakeholders involved in working on various interventions across the city. The task force is steeped in the city and community business cultures. The City of Somerville is working to educate elected officials and community leaders about SUS and is leveraging grant and city funds to maintain permanent SUS staffing positions. SUS has shown that a variety of community-wide changes can help prevent weight gain in young children.
SOURCE: See www.somervillema.gov.
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