In the US, September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. During the past four decades, childhood obesity has increased fourfold among children 6 to 11 years old and now one in three children in the US and the UK are either overweight or obese. This means children are increasingly at risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even stroke--conditions once experienced only by adults.
During the past several years, Michelle Obama has been the most visible champion of childhood obesity awareness, primarily through her Let's Move campaign. But many other organizations and individuals are also directing incredible energy and creativity toward reversing this tragic epidemic.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has courageously launched Food4Thought, a campaign designed to safeguard children against predatory marketing while simultaneously increasing healthy food options. The BHF points out that "Junk food marketing to children has become more sophisticated than ever. Loopholes in the rules governing online and TV marketing mean that they're not up to the job of protecting our children." Food4Thought wants the UK government to introduce stronger regulations to stop companies from advertising unhealthy foods directly to children.
Through Food4Thought, the BHF is also working with thirty schools across the UK to install healthy vending machines. They hope to inspire other schools use their healthy model to set up their own healthy vending machines in the future.
Riding It Forward
4-H is the largest US youth development and empowerment organization, reaching more than 7 million youth in urban neighborhoods, suburban schoolyards, and rural farming communities. Former Florida State University football player and The Biggest Loser finalist Joe Ostaszewski recently teamed up with 4-H to create the Riding It Forward campaign, a grassroots movement to raise awareness for healthy lifestyles and encourage youth to proactively prevent childhood obesity.
Growing up, Ostaszewski was a large-sized child with dreams of playing collegiate-level American football. He achieved his dream, playing as a defensive lineman, but not without a heavy price. "To maintain my size," Ostaszewski recalls, "I ate whatever I wanted and a lot of it. You have to be big if you want to be effective." But after retiring from football, he continued eating the same way, eventually ballooning to 370 pounds. When he later found himself in the cardiac intensive care unit, waiting to see if his father would survive emergency open-heart surgery, Ostaszewski pledged to take control of his health. He went on to participate in the reality television show, The Biggest Loser, during which time he lost 147 pounds. Now Ostaszewski is riding his bike across America to raise awareness for healthy living and inspire youth to be change agents in the fight against childhood obesity.
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC)
The CCFC was founded in 2000 by Susan Linn, an activist concerned about the escalating problem of commercialism encroaching on the lives of children. The CCFC strives to support parents' efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitative practice of child-targeted marketing. The CCFC famously stopped McDonald's from advertising on student report card envelopes in Florida and is now part of an international coalition urging McDonald's CEO, Don Thompson, to stand by his assertion that Ronald McDonald does not make appearances in schools.
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHA) created Strong4Life "to ignite societal change and reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity and its associated diseases." In 2012, the CHA released the above video, which recently went viral. The video shows the life of a 300-pound, 32-year old man in reverse, starting from the hospital where he was admitted after suffering a heart attack, all the way back through his childhood, during which time his parents fed him French fries and sugary breakfast cereals.
The CHA explains they didn't create the video to make parents feel guilty, but to "fast-forward to the year 2030 to show you what the future might look like" for your kids if they don't adopt healthy diets. Not everyone, however, agrees with the CHA's 'shock' tactics. Public policy expert Ted Kyle points to two recent studies from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, which found that stigmatizing obesity does not effectively motivate behavioral change.
Institute for Responsible Nutrition
Back in 2009, endocrinologist and childhood obesity expert Dr. Robert Lustig published on YouTube his 90-minute lecture regarding sugar metabolism, which has since garnered nearly 5 million views. Lustig later released his New York Times bestselling book, Fat Chance, and has become an internationally recognized leader in the struggle to reverse childhood obesity. Lustig and his colleagues recently founded the Institute for Responsible Nutrition (IRN), a nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Donations to the IRN are going toward building the world's first Massive-Open-Online-Course (MOOC) designed to thoughtfully educate parents, children, and food producers about the impact of added sugars on health. Personally, I've been so inspired by Dr. Lustig's work that I created my own campaign to raise funds for the IRN, with copies of my award-winning book being given as rewards to those who participate.
Christopher James Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed, three-time award-winning book, Nutritional Grail: Ancestral Wisdom, Breakthrough Science, and the Dawning Nutritional Renaissance. Visit his Nutritional Grail Blog for original recipes and articles.