Trimming The Fat: U.S. Govt. Attacks Childhood Obesity

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With little fanfare, the U.S. government has been spending considerable sums – tens of millions of dollars annually – over the past decade to address an obesity problem so severe it affects more than one-third (34.9%, or 78.6 million) of all U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a single generation, the obesity rate among children has tripled. The rate has doubled within the adult population in 20 years, according to The Campaign To End Obesity.

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That organization estimates healthcare costs related to obesity and conditions it contributes to amount to some $210 billion annually – 21% of all national health care spending. Its web site quotes the Congressional Budget Office as noting that when non-health costs related to obesity are factored in, the total per-annum cost is in the neighborhood of $450.

It’s little wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and such other federal agencies as the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) are spending what they are annually to educate various segments of the population about the causes and risks of obesity. The USDA alone spent nearly $70,000,000 in 2010 alone on Childhood Obesity Grants!

One of the programs that resulted from the studies those grants supported is one called Hip Hop To Health. This is that program’s sixth, and possibly final, year, unless further funding is allocated. As it certainly should be.

Hip Hop to Health is described as “an evidence-based healthy eating and exercise curriculum developed for children ages 3-7 years.” It’s clever, it’s catchy, and it works: The project’s web site notes that, “results of a comprehensive randomized evaluation study showed that children who received the Hip Hop to Health (HH2H) Jr. curriculum showed smaller increases in their body mass index at both a 1-year and 2-year follow-ups than children who received a general health curriculum. Thus HH2H was successful in taking these children off the trajectory to overweight and obesity.”

So if it happens, as it’s been reported, that the government “spent $3.5 million on anti-obesity hip hop songs,” you can assume from the results that was money well spent. (Your tax dollars truly at work!)

HH2H was developed by Dr. Melinda Stolley, who has spent much of her career creating health behavior programs for children and adults. Now an associate director at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center, she earned a BS in education at Northwestern University, did a stint as a kindergarten teacher, then returned to Northwestern to complete an MA in counseling psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology.

During the development phase, the HH2H program received feedback from early elementary teachers, parents and school administrators. Its effectiveness was evaluated through a study led by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, a professor at the University of Illinois.

She also has a PhD in clinical psychology and is an expert in the area of childhood obesity. She served on the Institute of Medicine Committee that developed the strategic plan for addressing childhood obesity in the U.S.  She and Dr. Stolley have been colleagues for many years, the project’s web site says.

The program’s simple-to-execute makeup belies its depth and scope. In addition to hip hop songs, a genre chosen because children readily take to it and have fun with the songs, the program employs a spectrum of teaching exercises and an assortment of physical exercises. HH2H can be ‘worked’ in a classroom setting, childcare centers, parks, at afterschool programs and in homes.

With luck, for children who are potentially obese adults, HH2H will be refunded, and many lives as well as millions of dollars will be saved in decades to come.

 

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