Community Efforts to Combat Childhood Obesity Effective

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five U.S. school-age children and young people ages 6 to 19 years suffers from obesity, a tripling of such numbers since the 1970s. For individual children, genetics, eating and exercise all play a role in weight status—but the influence of a community’s design, programs and policies on childhood obesity hasn’t been comprehensively understood.

Now, groundbreaking research appearing in the current issue of Pediatric Obesity represents the most wide-ranging investigation to date of how broadly and successfully communities across the U.S. implement programs and policies to prevent obesity in kids. The work also includes analysis of individual and community factors associated with positive change in childhood obesity.

Researchers Stephen Fawcett, Vicki Collie-Akers and Jerry Schultz at the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas’ Life Span Institute spearheaded the community measurement aspect of the work, dubbed the Healthy Communities Study.

“This is the largest study of its kind examining whether community investment in programs and policies to promote physical activity and healthy nutrition is associated with healthy weight—lower BMI, or Body Mass Index—among children,” said Fawcett, research professor at LSI. “No one had attempted to map the dose of community programs and policies actually being implemented in a large and diverse sample of U.S. communities.”

Conducted between 2010 and 2016, the Healthy Communities Study looked at community policies and programs (CPPs) in 130 U.S. communities, linking them to the weight status, eating habits and physical activity of 5,138 elementary and middle-school students in those locales. The sample included many children from low-income, Hispanic and African-American families. To estimate the dose of CPPs being delivered, the study’s researchers devised an intensity score that reflected the number of CPPs in place and their estimated strength, duration and reach.

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