Childhood obesity is a serious problem throughout the country, and one that’s influenced by community behavior as well as individual habits.
This was the message eagerly received by participants in the Obesity Collaborative when Dr. Stephen Cook, associate professor of pediatrics at University of Rochester Medical Center, spoke to a crowd of about 50 people Wednesday night at Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q.
The collaborative is a model program for initiating community strategies to prevent childhood obesity and Cook has been active in encouraging communities to participate.
“Community health advocacy is a very important part of pediatrics,” said Cook who is also a coordinator of the Greater Rochester Obesity Collaborative. “Child care and the transition to adulthood is very different now. There are different issues to consider. It used to be that children died from preventable diseases or because they did not come to term. But with technological advances, we can see a change in the healthcare of children.”
Last year Bassett Research Institute at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown initiated a program to improve the health of area children in Edmeston and Delhi called “Let’s Go 5-2-1-0.”
“Let’s Go 5-2-1-0” focuses on schools, worksites, health care providers, preschools and after-school programs in promoting and making available healthy choices and educating children. The program calls for five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours or less of recreational screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and zero sugary drinks each day.
Many of the participants have found creative ways that not only have encouraged children to see their food differently, but have helped many aspects of the two communities live healthier lifestyles.
“We use food that has been grown in our greenhouse,” said Edmeston Central School Superintendent Brian Hunt. “Edmeston has fit so well with the ‘5-2-1-0’ program. We grow our own food and we serve it in the cafeteria. We also use the greenhouse as a teaching tool. One of the art projects in our school was to design a logo for our freshly grown fruits and vegetables. Now we label the food and our students know when it comes from the school’s greenhouse.”
Another outreach that came out of the initiative is a cooperative venture between Pathfinder Village — a residential community for those with Down’s syndrome and other mental disabilities — and Edmeston, in which a farmers’ market was created.
“We found that one reason people were not eating fresh food was because it takes about 30 minutes of car time to get to the nearest grocery store — so people only go once a week,” said Paul Landers, CEO of Pathfinder Village. “It was a natural fit. We have a store, so we buy extra produce. Our supplier gets us locally grown produce, so we have a farmers’ market once a week. The residents work the store — they get job training; and the community gets locally grown produce in their community at a price they can afford.”
Landers said the produce is affordable because Pathfinder is not expecting to make a profit on the produce.
“It is nice for us because so many times people think that we are the ones that need help and money,” Landers said. “It is nice to be the one helping the community.”
Bassett has given grants to the two schools from an endowment controlled by the hospital. The programs are created by the administration and faculty of the individual schools.
“We gave out 19 mini-grants to Delhi,” said Chris Burrington, project coordinator for Bassett’s involvement with Delhi. “This is a multi-sector grant, we have community involvement as well as businesses getting involved.”
Some of the programs include holiday teaching tools, such as eating like a rabbit for Easter and heart-healthy games on Valentine’s Day. A field trip to Bassett hospital focused on cardiac surgery. Zumba classes and physical exercise clubs were formed, and the teaching aspects of the program was presented to participants in organized sporting events.
David Strogatz, Ph.D., director of Bassett’s Center for Rural Community Health, has been reviewing the programs and said he is satisfied with the first year of the initiative.
“It has been a very good program,” Strogatz said. “What I really like about the program is its simplicity. It is a daily commitment to eating right and getting exercise. You can check to see if you have lived by the program and do a self-assessment.”