Health department looking for input on childhood obesity

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COLUMBIA - A subcommittee for the prevention of childhood obesity held a public forum Wednesday. The subcommittee is part of the Missouri Children's Services Commission. The goal of Wednesday's forum was to get advice and opinions from the public about childhood obesity.

Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services Community Relations Supervisor Michelle Riefe said the committee has been traveling the state to gather different ideas about the prevention of childhood obesity. So far, the subcommittee has been to Springfield, Columbia, and plans to travel to Kansas City next week.

"They're just asking for some policy ideas and other different ideas that they can bring to the capital, to see what we can do to create a healthier environment," said Riefe. "It's really just a brainstorming session to see what people need and what people want."

Columbia parent Erin Harris has two children, ages 8 and 12. She attended Wednesday's forum because she thinks childhood obesity is an important issue.

"With the growing trend of childhood obesity, I think that we need to take some action, and a more proactive approach to it, and not just a reactive or trying to treat symptoms [approach]," Harris said. 

In her home, Harris and her husband have tried to teach their children healthy habits.

"We try to have lots of fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, lots of healthy snacks. We encourage lots of water, and not so many sweetened beverages," Harris said. "My husband and I try to set good role modeling. It's hard to do, but we try."

Harris attended the forum Wednesday because she is interested in hearing some of the state's plan for fighting this problem.

"I'm hoping to learn more about the new techniques, as far as some of the new approaches, and even the new marketing campaign that's coming out," Harris said.

Some of the approaches the committee has already come up with and discussed include the following;
• Update Missouri child care center and home licensing rules to align with the latest research on childhood obesity
• Require implementation of the Coordinated School Health model elements related to nutrition, physical activity, and physical education as part of a district accreditation by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
• Establish a designated fund for supporting schools with the implementation of wellness and prevention strategies.
• Establish a Commission for Childhood Obesity, supported by the Missouri Department of Health and senior services to coordinate resources across the state and improve link between screening and treatment services.
• Establish a network of Centers of Excellence across Missouri to provide evidence-based, multi-component weight reduction programs.

Columbia's a new campaign against childhood obesity titled "1-2-3-4-5-Fit-Tastic" was also introduced at the forum. The city adopted the campaign from Kansas City and will now partner with Kansas City moving forward. 

"It addresses childhood obesity, and what we're trying to do is promote some healthy messages, healthy eating, and healthy physical activity messages," Riefe said. "Also, it encourages healthy weight assessments."

Harris said from what she has heard of the new campaign, this is something her kids would respond to at home.

"It's a lot of animated art, lots of fun posters, and some good messages," Harris said. "I think it would be something they could read, take notes from and try."

The subcommittee's next step is to incorporate the ideas and feedback it receives from these forums and then finalize a report to give to the state.