A healthier lifestyle
It takes a community to keep a child healthy.
And a grassroots organization in Champaign-Urbana has community groups working together to promote active living and good nutrition for children.
Long before first lady Michelle Obama announced her Let’s Move campaign, local groups began looking at how to tackle the problem of childhood obesity here. Molly Delaney, educational outreach director for Illinois Public Media, asked leaders on health and wellness issues to meet and talk about the problem. And C-U Fit Families was created.
The coalition of more than 25 organizations and 70 individuals meets monthly to share ideas. It held an informational breakfast last week to bring more community leaders together to talk about how to make Champaign-Urbana a healthier place for children and families.
Illinois ranks in the top 10 states for overweight or obese adolescents, with more than 31 percent of children ages 10 to 17 years considered overweight or obese, according to the Illinois Public Health Institute.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic, said Dr. Napoleon Knight, vice-president and associate director of quality for Carle Foundation Hospital.
Knight cared for a child a month ago who weighed 300 pounds. Childhood obesity can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, joint disease, and poor self-image, he said, and children today are projected to have a shorter life span than their parents.
“Something that starts this young is very, very difficult to change,” Knight said. “(Children) can’t do it themselves. Adults are going to have to help them.”
The issue is a complex one, Delaney said, and the problem needs to be addressed from many different angles.
“It’s similar to asking people to change their behavior around smoking or addiction. Changing those behaviors is really hard,” she said.
C-U Fit Families is focused on four areas [--] active living, food advertising and marketing, shared family meals, and access to healthful foods at home and at school. It is looking at how it can support such things as the availability of safe places for children to play, safe routes for them to walk or bike to school, access to fresh produce and healthy choices for meals, the affordability of such foods, limiting TV time, understanding food marketing that targets children, promoting shared family meal times, and adults modeling healthful eating habits.
“Just one thing is not going to make a difference,” agreed Barbara Fiese, director of the University of Illinois’ Family Resiliency Center.
Some suggestions from Fiese that could help:
[--] Selling fresh fruit at small groceries or convenience stores located in neighborhoods that don’t have a full-service grocery store nearby.
[--] Raising awareness of how unhealthful foods are marketed to children, and encouraging schools to opt out of fundraisers involving such foods.
[--] Making physical activity a regular part of the day, such as walking to school or on errands.
[--] Eating the main family meal together at least three times per week.
“There is really strong evidence that sharing family meals together, and turning off the television during the meal, does promote healthier eating habits,” Fiese said.
The Family Resiliency Center has several projects under way to promote healthier lifestyles, including Abriendo Caminos, a program for Hispanic families that encourages healthy eating and physical activity, and Strong Kids, a research-based program looking at the factors influencing weight gain in children.
“People really do care about this issue,” Delaney said.
“It’s really overwhelming ... but with the collective power of the group, there are pockets of hope of things that are happening out there,” she continued. “People are hungry for this information. It’s about persistence and prevalence and continuing to work on the problem.”
C-U Fit Families hopes to do a baseline assessment of the health of the community, in order to gauge the effect of programs aimed at promoting healthier lifestyles, said Brenda Koester, coordinator of the Family Resiliency Center. It is also looking for funding sources for those efforts.