OCT. 18, 2005 | Hit singles, not homeruns.
That was one of the messages to Arkansas public school leaders at a recent childhood obesity conference sponsored by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.
By hitting singles, public schools can attack the multi-faceted problem from lots of angles rather than looking in vain for a single solution, said Martha Phillips, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine and Behavioral Science and in the Department of Epidemiology at the College of Public Health. Phillips is also director of the Center for Public Health Practice at the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Health.
“This problem is so big, it must be approached from a lot of directions,” said Phillips, the featured speaker at the first School Nutrition and Physical Activity Conference on Oct. 3. “If you’re looking for one thing you can do to fix it, I don’t think you’re going to find it.”
The gathering was called in light of a new state law and recently adopted regulations that require schools to restrict the availability of junk foods and offer more physical activities. Schools also are required to establish Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisory Committees to help accomplish the goals of Act 1220.
The conference gave public school officials and advisory committee members an opportunity to learn from UAMS’ experts and from their peers’ strategies.
About 180 school and community leaders from all sections of the state attended the conference.
“The turnout for this conference shows that public school leaders are serious about addressing obesity,” said College of Public Health Dean James M. Raczynski, Ph.D. “Our college is, too, by not only making our resources available to them, but by forging a partnership with public schools.”
The conference began with an overview of the growing obesity epidemic in Arkansas.
Raczynski noted that obesity rates, along with diabetes, have climbed dramatically since the 1980s, and if the trend continues, as many as 1.3 million adult Arkansans, or more than half the population, will be obese by 2020.
Two years of student body mass indexing shows that 39 percent of schoolchildren are either at risk of being overweight or are overweight, with 21 percent in the heaviest category. In some schools as many as 50 percent of students are in the heaviest category.
“It’s a sobering picture of what our kids actually look like,” Phillips said.
She told the school administrators, nurses, cafeteria managers, teachers and advisory committee members that the fight to reduce obesity rates will be a long one.
Not only is there no single solution to the problem, she said, there are no quick fixes, either. “Think of it as a marathon,” she said.
Phillips said schools will have to figure out how to overcome barriers to potential solutions, and the solutions don’t have to be expensive.
For example, she said a physical education teacher in another state had leveraged a small public grant to win private donations that began a popular and successful bicycle riding program at a nearby park.
“It’s not a single path that we’re on; there are lots of different ways to get there,” Phillips said.