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Childhood obesity is everyone's problem

Cutlines: "The Lady Iconz" strut their stuff in the Step Royale competition on June 26 at the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. Step Royale is a program sponsored by Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth aimed at reducing childhood obesity among teens by popularizing step dancing.

"The Iconz" took the top prize at a Step Royale competition June 26 at the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. Step Royale is a pilot program designed to encourage physical activity among at-risk African-American teens in urban communities by popularizing step dancing. The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth sponsors the competitions.

Summary: Community groups throughout Hampton Roads are working together to lead children to a healthier lifestyle

Childhood obesity is everyone's problem. The chronic diseases it causes and the health costs it incurs impact society at large. This year Michelle Obama launched a campaign, "Let's Move," targeting the issue and pledging to end childhood obesity within a generation.

The campaign is helping to spotlight the issue that many are toiling to solve, from community activists to the federal government.

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control came up with a comprehensive blueprint for healthier living. "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the U.S." outlines 26 ways states and communities can act effectively.It details recommended changes in zoning ordinances; how to attract full-service grocery stores to underserved areas; and the need to require physical education classes and serve healthier foods in schools. It advises instituting a ban on sweetened drinks (including flavored milk) and a limit on juice portions served in licensed child-care facilities; and much more.

In addition to spelling out concrete strategies, the CDC also shows how to measure and track their success, www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5807 a1.htm.

The guidelines have given a boost to state and local efforts. First lady of Virginia, Maureen McDonnell, picked up the theme in Virginia's first summit on the subject, "Weight of the State," held in May.

Several groups and public-private partnerships are working at the grass-roots level to change the culture and policies that encourage over-eating and under-exercising. Increasingly they are forming coalitions and combining resources to get the message across. They include the following:

Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, formerly the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Fund, took on obesity prevention last year along with its original anti-smoking message. The 2010 General Assembly then charged it with distributing at least $1 million for obesity prevention initiatives this year.

It is offering grants up to $60,000 to existing coalitions using evidence-based programs that meet CDC guidelines (www.healthyyouthva.org).

This summer the foundation also sponsored a step-dancing competition, Step Royale, the culmination of a months-long program attended by more than 100 teens, as part of a pilot program targeting African-American youth in the Tidewater region.

Prevention Connections, sister nonprofit organization to the Virginia Foundation, is making $2,000 mini-grants available for Title 1 elementary schools and middle schools in Virginia to establish safe walking and biking routes to school. Safe Routes to Schools is a federal program that helps encourage physical activity and reduce childhood obesity.

The application is available online at www.preventionconnections.org. A variety of groups are encouraged to apply, including parent-teacher associations and community agencies.

WHRO Center for Regional Citizenship, whro.org, an outreach arm of local public television, has included a focus on childhood obesity since producing a video, "Surviving Abundance, Overweight Kids in Crisis" with the Consortium for Infant and Child Health at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2007. Currently it's partnering with the Richmond-based Interfaith Center for Public Policy, www.virginiainterfaithcenter.org, to promote "Healthy Habits for Hampton Roads" with a 2-year grant from the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation; the latter is spending millions nationally to promote better health for children.

The WHRO Center, led by Kelly Jackson, and the interfaith center's Childhood Obesity Project, led by Seneca Bock, have conducted a series of seminars and workshops throughout the region, with a particular focus on reaching at-risk youth in Western Tidewater. Bock has visited more than 120 churches and works closely with the African American Faith and Fitness Women's Fellowship to involve the faith community.

"We're organizing a coalition to advocate for systemic change. We're making sure the community has a voice that's amplified so leaders will hear and change policies," says Bock.

The YMCA works in conjunction with several groups in the region, including Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters' Healthy You weight management program to offer exercise facilities and instruction in healthy living. At www.healthyfamilyhome.org it offers online tips for nutrition, exercise and family activities. For scheduled activities at the local Y, go to www.peninsulaymca.org.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Virginia Peninsula, www.bagclub.com, has several programs that focus on health and making sensible lifestyle choices. Its Healthy Choices Healthy Children class includes information on healthy eating.

Representatives of the Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula also teach classes on nutrition.

"The programs often involve a pre- and post-test so we can measure if our youth are learning the information. These scores always help show the success of our programs," says Lacey Milburn, development coordinator.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY CHAT ONLINELocal experts will answer questions during a live discussion Wednesday at noon. Plus, you can read past stories from the series, check out the CDC's body mass index calculator for children and teens and more at dailypress.com/health

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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