We frequently read reports expressing concern about childhood obesity and the related impacts on our society and economy. Obesity in children leads to chronic obesity in adults and the impact is widely felt. The challenges for each individual who struggles with this health concern are sufficient alone for us to respond. But the costs associated with increasing healthcare demands linked to obesity, coupled with the loss of productivity, make this an urgent national concern.
A few years ago I was part of a small group of faculty and administrators at Northeastern University in Boston working on the development of a city-wide partnership to confront childhood obesity called: Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures. During that time I became acquainted with one of our faculty colleagues, Jessica Blom-Hoffman, who was doing research, evaluation and intervention planning for nutrition in public schools.
We had a dinner meeting one evening (yes, it was a healthy menu) and I had occasion to engage in a conversation with Jessica I will never forget. I asked her the simple and obvious question, “What are the challenges associated with reversing trends in childhood obesity?” Her answers stunned me.
First, she noted the fundamental problem in urban areas is the supply chain. Jessica shared there are very few grocery stores with fresh produce and healthy options in urban centers. Further she described the prices charged for the fresh fruits and vegetables in these settings are high enough to serve as a deterrent for many lower income families. It’s simply more affordable to buy junk food. I did not expect to hear a professor in the health sciences field talk extensively about a business problem, but she was looking at base factors contributing to childhood obesity wherever that would lead her. Facing childhood obesity is clearly an interdisciplinary challenge. We will need to draw on the expertise of many from different academic and professional fields.