If you were able to listen in on Friday's Childhood Obesity Summit at the White House, you already know, then, what a treat we had! It was superb to see professionals from all walks of life, in the same rooms, brainstorming together for 3 1/2 hours to see how all could come together to improve kids' health specifically in regards to the childhood obesity epidemic; these included representatives from the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, local private practice pediatricians, soda company executives, schools and Parent-Teacher Associations, Sesame Street, Eating Disorder specialists, the media and advertising executives, economists, and many more. The general meeting started out with the panel taking questions, comments, and suggestions from different folks in the audience -- those present included Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, Cabinet officials, and, of course, First Lady Michelle Obama. Among the statements that stands out is the projected costs of obesity as stated by Peter Orszag, Cabinet official and Director of the Office of Management and Budget -- the estimated cost of obesity today is $150 billion per year and it is projected, over the next 10 years to double! Obesity alone is well on its way to becoming responsible for one fifth of overall health care costs! Following the general session, the attendees then chose between the 4 breakout sessions -- Empowering Parents and Caregivers, Healthier Food in Schools, Access to Healthy, Affordable Food, and Increased Opportunities for Physical Activities.
Dr. Angela Fals, Childhood Obesity National Examiner, sat in on the session entitled "Empowering Parents and Caregivers". Following are some of the major points mentioned, in no particular order:
Meetings and conferences are always combined with refreshments and foods -- why not start a new trend and have more exercise and activities at meetings? We should have more meetings outside, in parks, and attend local runs and exercise events.
Check out the local fresh markets
Importance of cooking classes and provide practical recipes
Inform parents what fast food good or better options are available i.e. get a Happy meal with the apples and milk as your first choice, not the rebound 'Well, I should get it b/c it's better for me choice. ugh!'
Parents need the information to be presented simply, straight forward, age-and devopmentally-appropriate, and practical - i.e. they want to know what their right "number" is (of calories or portions or serving sizes) and how and when to make the correct adjustments.
Encourage parents to be vocal, politically -- be involved in their schools, local governing bodies, etc. Encourage consumer demand for healthier products -- if parents don't buy them, the food companies will not make them.
The importance of integrating into the community (YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches, PTAs)
Teaching parenting techniques and skills -- it's not only OK, but parents can and should say No at times to certain foods or activities, helping them set limits and take control of their kids and families, drawing boundaries. Successful parents can teach other parents how to be successful too.
Watching out for potential eating disorders, present or developing
Work with adult Primary Care Physicians and OBGYNs to educate parents and parents-to-be on the dangers of being obese and prevention for themselves and their child. Start young -- also with educating young parents in playgroups.
Once you have located successful families from any socioeconomic status, showcase them so that families are encouraged that and believe that, yes, it can be done. And that they can do it too.
Importance of sleep, rest and relaxation to minimize stress and allow the body to recuperate.
Regarding the media, advertising and programming regarding poor food choices and inactive lifestyles should be limited and not directed toward children. There should be more positive messages promoting more nutritious foods and active lifestyles to change our culture and society. There should be more care given into using licensed characters that attract kids' attention for good and to encourage more healthful lifestyles.
We, as a society, should be actively safeguarding the environment surrounding our children and families.
Very important to know how to read food labels. Some changes are occurring to make these more readable, user-friendly, and relevant to children.
** This last point was very important is key for anyone working with parents and primary caregivers to understand --
It was stated that providing parents and caregivers with information or education alone has been shown to not be very effective for changing lifestyles over the long term -- what did seem to make a lasting difference, however, was connecting emotionally (not analytically) , getting real with them, learning their particular lifestyles, their particular struggles, etc. and providing them with relevant better options.
Click here to access the summary for the Summit from the White House website.