Obesity is a fast-growing health issue affecting children and adolescents across the nation and here at home. Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE), along with agency and community partners, implemented a unique, collaborative solution aimed at raising awareness, providing education and effecting workable strategies for preventing obesity in children and families in our community. From working regularly with children and families, Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) faculty were aware that NJ residents mirrored the national statistics on obesity, which indicate that 19.6% of US children aged 6 to 11 years and 18.1% of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years are overweight 1. Since 1980, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled 2. The effects of overweight can be devastating both physically and emotionally. Adult health issues, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes have increased dramatically in children. Further troubling statistics reported that overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults 3. That likelihood increases to 80% if one or more parent is overweight or obese . Overweight children suffer emotionally, too, facing social discrimination, bullying, poor self-esteem and depression 4.
The Children's Health Summit is an all-day professional training conference addressing childhood obesity. The Summits are comprehensive educational forums, featuring workshops, exhibits and focused networking opportunities to further extend the outreach and education. In December 2003, the first Summit was piloted and tested in Cape May County by RCE/FCHS of Cape May County, in partnership with county and state agencies, and made possible by a competitive grant of $3,500 from the Cape May County Human Services Advisory Council. The FCHS department expanded the program to reach additional NJ residents with eleven Summits being held throughout the state by December 2010. Summits had been successfully conducted in Cape May, Atlantic, Union, Passaic, Cumberland, Hunterdon-Somerset, Middlesex, Mercer, Morris and Ocean counties, training more than 1200 school, health, and social service professionals in the causes, consequences, and solutions surrounding childhood obesity. In 2010 The Children's Health Summit focused on the importance of "starting early" by increasing awareness of the connection between environment, policy and health. The next Children's Health Summit will take place in 2013. In 2012 RCE/FCHS is partnering with Shaping NJ and the NJ Partnership for Healthy Kids to present Obesity Prevention for New Jersey, The State of the State: Important Next Steps. For details check www.cpe.rutgers.edu/obesity.
Children's Health Summits:
The target audience for Children's Health Summits includes: teachers, school nurses, dieticians, social workers, school personnel, health care professionals, school food service directors, child care providers, coaches, nutrition educators, counselors, family therapists and any other professionals or volunteers working with youth and families.
Children's Health Summits generated local and regional press coverage, including a feature interview on Comcast Newsmakers, a statewide cable program and news feature on an NBC affiliate. Newspaper, radio and television coverage helped to heighten public awareness and extend the message about childhood obesity to a broader audience. For news regarding the December 2010 Children's Health Summit check out Dean Robert Goodman's January 2011 report (775k PDF) and visit us on YouTube.
Summit participants self-reported a commitment to the following top changes:
According to evaluation responses outreach was more than doubled and the majority of participants agreed to make several behavior changes. The knowledge gained was high and there was a strong commitment for future involvement. This indicates the potential for program growth through the establishment of Building Healthy Kids Coalition on the local level.
More than 70% of CHS participants indicated a willingness to continue their participation beyond each Summit through their membership in local Building Healthy Kids Coalitions (BHKC). These, community-based, grass roots coalitions are organized and facilitated by FCHS and consist of volunteer members wishing to address solutions appropriate to their local concerns. FCHS educators train coalition leaders and provide initial leadership and direction.
In Mercer County the Building Healthy Kids Coalition is active in supporting the proposed improvements to the state child care licensing regulations regarding nutrition, physical activity and screen time. Two BHKCs worked on a walking program (Steppin' Out Cape May County and Steppin' Out Union County) for adults and children. One BHKC joined a collaborative initiative for a healthier Passaic County which has brought many community leaders together to address childhood obesity in the county. In Union County most of their "meetings" are held electronically and include information on nutrition research, food safety, and child obesity prevention grants. Three freeholders are BHKC members in that county! The Cape May County BHKC meets quarterly and their current focus is obesity prevention with emphasis on school wellness, cooking with kids, and Food Day 2012. Other BHKC are addressing obesity-related issues such as: reviewing school wellness policies, limiting snacks or changing snack choices, reviewing school policy on vending machines, motivating parents to get involved.
We continue to hear success stories from Coalition members. Stories like, "Since I attended the Summit, I started a morning walking club for staff and students." A school food service director shared, "After the Summit, I only order whole wheat breads and pizza crust instead of white bread products for the school lunch" and a school nurse, "We no longer permit teachers to reward students with soda." And a Health and PE teacher, "The Summit motivated me to approach the school board to complete the construction of the walking path behind our school. And I also worked with our principal to move recess to before rather than after lunch. The kids eat better and have more energy." Two fitness trainers/ gym managers told us that after the Summit they started a fitness program specifically for kids at their gym. Many of the BHKC use their meetings as a networking/sharing forum for their various programs. These are significant outcomes. Childhood obesity needs a multifaceted response and we are helping to make that happen. We have invited our partners to help turn childhood obesity "talk" into action. Together we are making a difference for children and families.
Cooperative Extension of Cape May County
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
4 Moore Road
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210-1601
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