BC’s New Initiative to Reduce Childhood Obesity

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Reducing Childhood Obesity

Link to Article | http://www.bclocalnews.com/news/63795157.html

Written by Arthur Williams

THURSDAY, October 8 2009 (bclocalnews.com) — Prince George will be one of two cities in B.C. to pilot a new strategy to reduce childhood obesity. 

Pediatric endocrinologist and UBC researcher Shazhan Amed said the program is based on a similar initiative in France, which engaged the community as a whole to reduce rates of childhood obesity.

“One in every four children in Canada is obese. And half of obese children grow up to become obese adults,” Amed said. “The goal (of the project) is to promote healthy behaviors and healthy weights, with the family in the centre.”

Obese children have increased risks of developing type-two diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other obesity-related health problems. 

“I just completed a national study. Thirty-seven per cent of obese children have a co-morbidity of high blood pressure or high cholesterol when diagnosed with type-two diabetes,” Amed said.

Thirteen per cent of obese children diagnosed with type-two diabetes had three or more obesity-related health complications, she added.

Isolated efforts by schools and community organizations have not been effective in stopping the rising child obesity rate in North America, she said.

But between 2000 and 2004, French communities which took part in EPODE saw child obesity rates for girls drop from 18.6 per cent to 10.4 per cent. Over the same period, the obesity rate for boys dropped from 10.2 per cent to 7.4 per cent.

The largest shrink in waistlines happened among lower-class and middle-class children, she added.

Amed said to make the model work, the community must engage in the process, develop a local solution and create a, “societal solution to a societal problem.”

“It’s meant, through community mobilization, to get all sectors involved: media, schools, restaurants, grocery stores,” she said. “There has been a lot of really exciting examples. Restaurants will join the initiative and identify calories of each meal and what are healthy choices. (In grocery stores) there could be an isle that is completely dedicated to healthy food choices, and is marketed as such.”

Businesses and organizations which partner with the project will recognized and promoted, she said.

“(But) the reward for the community is a healthier, happier place to live. It’s how everyone can come together to address this issue.”

Prince George is a good pilot community because it is already engaged, ethnically diverse and has real winter weather, which changes people’s activity habits, she said.

“One of our objectives is to better understand how that cultural piece plays a role in obesity,” Amed said.

“In Canada 44 per cent of children with type-two diabetes are aboriginal, 25 per cent are Caucasian and the rest are of other ethnic groups.”

With the support of the city, Amed said the project will begin an analysis of where the community is now and what can be done.

“The next step is to start meeting with community champions. We want to get a sense of where the community sees the needs,” she said. “We will spend time to establish a good relationship with community stakeholders.”

The Prince George coordinator will be Jenny Scott. Scott will be based in Prince George full-time, while other team members work with both pilot communities.

The project has received federal funding to conduct the two pilot projects, Amed added, but will be looking for further funding to help fund initiatives within the communities.

“We are focused on a cleaner, safer, healthier community and this fits with that,” Mayor Dan Rogers said.