Maintaining a healthy weight and observing good habits of nutrition and physical activity are vital to children’s lives and to their futures. Obesity, and the poor health outcomes with which it is associated, has risen to epidemic levels in the US, though the most recent figures note that the prevalence of obesity has leveled slightly (2009, CDC). Responding to growing national concern for childhood obesity, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign has aimed to effect the issue within the span of one generation.
For the St. Louis region, community-level progress in the area of child health and nutrition began in 2004, when community leaders and stakeholders collaborated in a series of meetings and forums dedicated to addressing the issue. With aid from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s Childhood Obesity Initiative and the St. Louis Regional Youth Health and Wellness Initiative combined to form the Healthy Youth Partnership, the goals of which are specifically related to child obesity, food policy and physical activity.
A leader in local education on these issues, BJC’s School Outreach and Youth Development targeted physical fitness and nutrition at its inception in 1991. The office provides educational programs to local area schools at all grade levels. The St. Louis Public Schools is beginning to initiate its “Health and Wellness Policy.” Developed in 2008, the policy targets 8 goal areas, including health and wellness education and nutrition services.
There are a growing number of small local non-profits devoted to nutrition and family exercise. Renewed interest in locally grown foods, community gardens, healthy and active lifestyles, and physical activity as a family recreation has led the general public to support and interact with agencies such as Gateway Greening, TrailNet, andOperation Food Search.
Several St. Louis area foundations, governmental offices and agencies target community change through family-friendly parks and recreational centers, exercise-oriented afterschool activities and programs targeting the most at-risk. Although promising, the current level of community activity is not sufficient to outweigh the large numbers of overweight children, lack of access to and knowledge of healthy foods, and to support lifestyles that naturally incorporate physical activity.
Local data on nutrition and obesity for the state of Missouri can be found on the Department of Health and Senior Services website, which contains reports and online, searchable databases. See theMissouri Obesity Resource Data Bank for more information.