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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
to grow up with healthy and productive bodies and minds. But “to protect” is not necessarily a given. Achieving the vision of Healthy People 2010—“healthy people in healthy communities”—depends on the capacity of communities to foster social norms that support energy balance and a physically active lifestyle (DHHS, 2000b).
This report as a whole examines a variety of types of communities and the ways in which improvements can be made in order to foster and promote healthful food and physical activity choices and behaviors. This chapter focuses on the local community, using the term “community” to refer to the town, city, or other type of geographic entity where people share common institutions and, usually, a local government. Of course, within each local community there are many interdependent smaller networks of residential neighborhoods, faith-based communities, work communities, and social communities.
The intent of this chapter’s recommendations is not only to make a case for raising the priority of childhood obesity prevention in our communities, but also to identify common interests that can spark collaborative community initiatives for addressing that goal. Many communities and organizations across the United States are actively working to address physical activity and nutrition-related issues; examples are highlighted throughout the chapter (Boxes 6-1 through 6-5).
By stepping outside the traditional view of obesity as a medical problem, we may more fundamentally focus on the many institutions, organizations, and groups in a community that have significant roles to play in making the local environment more conducive to healthful eating and physical activity. Table 6-1 illustrates categories of many of the stakeholder groups that could be involved in obesity prevention efforts. For community efforts, key stakeholders include youth organizations, social and civic organizations, faith-based groups, and child-care centers; businesses, restaurants, and grocery stores; recreation and fitness centers; public health agencies; city planners and private developers; safety organizations; and schools.
Community-based obesity prevention efforts differ from those of school and home settings (Pate et al., 2000), but potentially supplement and reinforce the messages received in those settings. Young people, particularly adolescents, often spend a large part of their free time in community locales (e.g., recreational or entertainment centers, shopping areas, parks, fast food restaurants). These informal settings, which do not have the stresses of grades or other school situations, may offer environments that are more conducive to trying new activities and foods. Additionally, community settings offer the potential for involving parents and other adult role models in