Last week, the Journal of the American Medicine Association published a study revealing that childhood obesity has decreased over the past decade. The much-lauded 43 percent drop has been attributed to many factors, from rising rates of breast feeding to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. Some conservative commentators have taken the research as evidence that the obesity crisis is overstated or even a total myth.
If only! The findings have been met with celebration, but a closer look at the numbers reveals a more complicated picture. The 43 percent reduction, for one thing, only refers to children between the ages of two and five. Furthermore, the stats follow a racial divide. Black and Latino toddlers are, respectively, three and five times more likely to be obese than their white playmates. The rates become more similar in elementary school, only to widen again in adolescence as disparities in economic opportunities between white and minority teens come into effect.
Even a cursory look at the study shows that while toddlers are more svelte and reducing obesity is a national priority like never before, children’s health advocates have much left to do. The article itself admits that, “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.”
Clearly, whatever progress has been made does not yet affect everyone equally. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the past, future and ongoing projects that both local policymakers and others have undertaken in the name of public health:
- Last year the New Jersey legislature approved a bill that will allow public schools to serve produce grown in community gardens. The legislation aims to provide a tempting alternative to the oft-frequented corner stores that populate urban communities.
- Hunger is ubiquitous in discussions about public health in third world nations, but what often goes overlooked is the context of our own food policy. The 2013 documentary A Place at the Table highlights the many different faces of the hungry and food insecure in the U.S., few of whom conform to the gaunt faces we associate with malnutrition.
- In the lead-up to last year’s Feeding Cities conference, Next City spoke with nutritionist Barry M. Popkins about changing American food practices in the latter half of the 20th century, and how the rest of the world is beginning to mirror this supermarket-dependent manner of food consumption.
- Bodegas and corner stores are often derided for their lack of healthy options and prominent displays of highly processed foods, but New York’s Healthy Bodega Initiative is a promising model for getting fruits and vegetables into neighborhoods otherwise classified as food deserts.
- While controversy surrounding former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban has mostly fizzled out, the outrage it provoked is as funny as ever.
- In the midst of a heated discussion about the truth of the urban food desert, photographer Andy Cook took to the streets of Brewerytown, a North Philadelphia neighborhood and Next City’s former home, to assess the options for healthy eating in the area.
- Back in 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation held a roundtable on preventing childhood obesity by increasing walkability and access to public transit.
- Obesity and related health problems disproportionately affect low-income communities of color and immigrants, but healthy eating education tends to take a one-size-fits-all approach. Healthy cooking education tailored to standard American diets is the norm, but crafting culturally relevant programs for a given community could be the key to making these changes stick.