NCIOM task force addresses early childhood obesity
Sept. 10, 2013
Researchers from the Gillings School of Global Public Health participated this week in a task force convened by the N.C. Institute of Medicine to develop strategies targeting obesity in children from birth to age five.Alice Ammerman, DrPH, nutrition professor and director of the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and Dianne Ward, EdD, nutrition professor and research fellow at the center, were task force members.
The group issued recommendations to bring together parents, child care providers, health professionals and community members to promote healthy eating and physical activity in children.
“Attacking the causes of obesity with our youngest children is key to creating a healthier North Carolina and improving long-term health,” said Pam Silberman, DrPH, NCIOM president and chief executive officer and clinical professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School.
“Addressing the causes of obesity among our citizens is necessary to improve quality of life, to reduce chronic disease, and to limit rising health costs. The Task Force recognized that no single strategy could address this complex issue, but a collaborative effort including health care professionals, child care providers, families and community organizations could have a significant impact.”
Although obesity rates have begun to stabilize in the last year, North Carolina, along with much of the U.S., has experienced a dramatic increase in rates of obesity over the last three decades, leading to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The North Carolina Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System, which collects data on low-income children ages birth to five years, shows that the obesity epidemic affects even the youngest individuals in the state. About three of every 10 young low-income children in North Carolina between the ages of two and four years are either overweight or obese. Obese children are at increased risk for elevated cholesterol, insulin and blood pressure; sleep apnea; bone and joint problems; and social and psychological problems.
Early childhood obesity is linked to obesity rates of older children and eventually adults. Children who are obese by age six years or overweight by age 12 years have greater than a 50 percent likelihood of becoming obese adults. According to a 2013 report by the Trust for America’s Health, almost a third of adult North Carolinians are obese.
Ward’s research focuses on obesity prevention in early childhood, particularly in child care settings. She leads the Nutritional and Physical Activity Self -Assessment for Child Care (NAP SACC), which has been recognized by The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity and the Center of Excellence for Training and Research Translation as an effective and evidence-based intervention to prevent childhood obesity.
“Children deserve the opportunity to grow up in healthy environments,” Ward said. “The beauty of the NCIOM’s task force recommendations to address early childhood obesity lies in the multi-agency collaborations used for their creation. I am pleased that several of the recommendations address early care and education settings. The report recommends community and environmental strategies that are supported by our NAP SACC-based research.”
The task force issued a number of recommendations, including to improve the treatment and prevention of early childhood obesity in health care settings; integrate health activities into child care settings; utilize community resources to reduce childhood obesity; and expand the collection and reporting of data about physical activity and nutrition.
Detailed recommendations can be found in the full task force report, available on the N.C. Institute of Medicine’s website.