by Marion Nestle
Mar 4 2010

Research alert: childhood obesity and how to fix it

It’s almost impossible to keep up with what’s being written about childhood obesity.  The papers and commentary pour in.  Much of this is well worth reading.  If you want to keep up on the latest thinking about the issue, here are some places to start:

1.  Health Affairs: Thanks to Matt Gruenberg for alerting me to the issue of Health Affairs devoted entirely to obesity topics.  Here’s the Table of  Contents.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation had a hand in this and discusses some of the papers on its website.

Even better, Health Affairs has produced a series of “issue briefs” to go with the journal articles.  These are available on the Health Affairs blog. They cover:

2. has a “special issue” on childhood obesity from the business standpoint:

Giving children the best nutritional start: With childhood obesity rates apparently sky rocketing around the world, celebrity chefs redesigning school meals, and international initiatives to influence what our children eat, now is an interesting time for child nutrition.

Kids’ food trends in the spotlight: Some major trends in children’s eating habits could change as the economy recovers – but foods marketed as natural and healthful are here to stay, according to a senior analyst at Mintel. 

How characters can help children eat healthily: From Disney to Tony the Tiger, consumer groups have been campaigning hard to break the links between childhood icons and unhealthy foods. But furry friends and super-heroes are now putting in more of an appearance on healthy products.

Kids’ TV food commercials down, but cross-promotions soar: Cross-promotions on food packaging targeted at children increased by 78 percent between 2006 and 2008, according to a study from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy.

3.  Michelle Obama’s campaign:USA Today reports on Mrs. Obama’s talk to the school nutrition association, the organization of people who work in school lunchrooms – those who Jamie Oliver refers to as “lunch ladies.”  Check out the coverage and see the video.

What is one to make of all this?  Childhood obesity is a huge public health issue and deserves the attention it is getting.  Let’s hope some of it works.

  • Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

    This clip from Killer at Large is an example of what our well meaning government has done in the past that was completely ineffective.

  • We historians take issue with the platitude of not repeating history just because you’ve studied it. Rather it’s change over time that draws our attention. Looking at the past in that way allows patterns to emerge that if assessed with awareness of bias tend to point toward greater wisdom–not that we humans have shown much tendency to forgo immediate gratification for wisdom.

    Which brings me to the topic at hand. What I like is the emergence of kitchen gardens at schools and the beginning of children involved with cooking and eating their produce. This is in direct opposition to the commerce aspect of supplying food, an angle that seems forever doomed if we view it in terms of our health and wealth.

  • Lorraine Ottens

    Yes, school gardens for their kitchens! How can we expect children to make decent food choices if they and their parents don’t even know what the basic ingredients look like, let alone how to use them. Reading ingredient labels is much like reading a chem text book, so even though we all talk about the need for doing this, how will that help many of those who are at greatest risk? This is such an enormous problem, yet it strikes me that some of the best solutions would be getting as many children back into the dirt!

  • Jon

    Marion, you and your readers may be interested in this along those lines. The Food Research and Action Center just launched a new newsletter focusing on obesity and poverty, here’s their synopsis:

    “Each issue will highlight relevant research and reports recently released from academia, government agencies, and health and advocacy organizations, and include a hyperlink to the research abstract, or full research article or report (if available for free). Additional newsletter content may include media reports, special analyses, and new resources and tools.”

    I found the first issue both nicely concise and useful – a tough combination to pull off.

    Here’s the link:

  • diet and exercise. that’s it. the end.

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  • Cathy Richards

    I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the Food Navigator comments. While they provide us with great insight into what is happening in the food industry, industry is profit driven, not health driven — unless they can profit from it (financially or image wise).

  • Of course we as parents should do what’s best for our children and keep them from being obese. Even then, we have to watch ourselves because we might come off as being too critical and end up having our children resenting us. Out of love, we try to keep them healthy, but this might be mistaken as being overbearing by the kids.

    P.S. Bottom line, we have to make an effort to show our children that we love them. You can check out this article for simple ways to show our children that we love them, allowing them to grow up to be healthy and well-balanced individuals.

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  • A test by a local authority in London to ban fast food outlets from opening near schools, backed by the local community, has resulted in a drop in obeisty rates.

    The kids, unable to go out at lunch for fast food, had little choice but to stay in school and eat from a better designed menu with a positive outcome.

  • All you need is a good diet, and exercise

  • Amy

    they should have to stay in school to get a good meal!

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  • Childhood obesity is so sad…if only kids could put down the video games and get outside for some healthy ‘playing’ time.

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  • Childhood obesity is so sad…if only kids could put down the video games and get outside for some healthy ‘playing’ time.

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