February 17, 2014 (ROOSEVELT, N.Y.) - Childhood obesity is a problem across New York, with a statewide average of nearly 18 percent of public school students overweight. With an eye toward changing behavior even before they enter school, new efforts are being brought to bear on the problem.
The newly formed Long Island Health Collaborative has obesity in its sights and will, among other things, work with public officials on making communities more "walkable and bikeable," according to spokeswoman Janine Logan.
"When we begin our policy work, we are going to start with two of those high-needs districts: Wyandanch in Suffolk County and Roosevelt in Nassau County," Logan said.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America recently issued new recommendations calling for an investment in the "foundations of lifelong physical and mental well-being in America's youngest children." All 11 of Long Island's high-needs districts are listed among New York areas that have the greatest number of students who are obese.
In Roosevelt, Jacob Dixon runs a youth program, Choice for All. He said a survey by a local university and a hospital showed 57 percent of Roosevelt's sixth-graders were obese. Most of them indicated they wanted help, he added.
"We as an organization are now looking at this from a perspective of, 'If even the kids are acknowledging it, then as adults we need to take some type of responsibility to help them reach their goal of physical health,'" he said.
One problem Dixon pointed to is that fast-food outlets are more accessible than markets selling fresh produce and nutritious options.
"What can we do to build access to healthy nutrition - maybe farmers' markets that we currently have here in Roosevelt during the summer, and making them year-round?" Dixon asked.
Janine Logan added that the Long Island Health Collaboration recognizes obesity's link to the chronic diseases the organization will focus on.
"Diabetes, hypertension, asthma. Seventy percent of chronic disease is attributable to lifestyle. It's a slow education process. We're looking to help people understand the etiology of their disease and then to change their behaviors," Logan said.
Decades ago, she noted, no one gave any thought to recycling cans and bottles; in the same way that our ecological behavior changed, the effort will be to change behavior related to nutrition and exercise.
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