Friday, June 21, 2013

A Policy a Day Will Keep Obesity Away

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate.

I have read several articles related to obesity this week. The week started with the announcement that obesity has been deemed a disease by the American Medical Association and the reemergence of an old report by the CDC that Mississippi had the highest prevalence of obesity in the country in 2011. Then I ran across a policy brief by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation titled Making the Connection: Linking Policies that Prevent Hunger and Childhood Obesity. 

Several news outlets are interviewing doctors about the implications of classifying obesity as a disease—one of the main ones is that this classification will encourage policy interventions to help make healthy food options more accessible. There are several communities that have already started addressing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles. Here are a few of them: 

State of Wisconsin: Through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’sAmeriCorps Farm to School Program, students learn about and eat state-grown produce. They participate in taste-testing, farm field trips, gardening activities, and cooking demonstrations. This policy has made it possible to for officials to support local farmers as well as battle childhood obesity. 

St. Petersburg, Florida: Mayor Rick Baker launched a program called Play ‘N’ Close to Home, which seeks to ensure that there is a public playground within walking distance of every neighborhood. So far, the city has added 11 playgrounds and has plans to provide even more. 

Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Because the Parish has areas without parks that are easily accessible, officials are employing mobile playgrounds, which look a lot like ice cream trucks but will bring a play area with activities and special programming for children. 

Alexandria, Virginia: This community has city-run farmers’ markets, which encourage residents to purchase and consume locally grown produce. 

Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota: Vending machines in four transit bus stations are stocked with healthier food and beverage products, and the prices for the those items have been reduced. This has resulted in more healthy purchases. 

State of Colorado: The Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, signed an executive order to continue the No Kid Hungry Colorado campaign, which was initiated by the former Governor, Bill Ritter. The state has a comprehensive plan to end childhood hunger by 2015, and employs programs such as free breakfast for low-income students and works with partners to implement programs such as USDA Summer Meals program, which provides free, healthy meals throughout the summer to families who need them. 

Healthier communities lead to healthier, happier, more productive residents and workers. There are several ways communities can encourage healthier lifestyles, including making sure children to build good habits early on.