The Skinny on Obesity in Lane County

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Skinny on Obesity in Lane County


Byline: Laurie Trieger

The latest report from Trust for America's Health says that Oregon has the lowest rate of childhood obesity in the nation. A July 20 Register-Guard editorial, "Oregon kids (relatively) fit," raised some excellent points regarding how we earned this distinction, and what we can do to maintain it.

It's important to note, however, that the data used to calculate state obesity rates in the report are based on the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health. It is based not on actual measurements, but rather random-dial telephone interviews with parents, asking them to report their children's height and weight. While the report is interesting, it provides us only with parents' best-guess estimates.

In 2006, Lane County Public Health, the UO Anthropology Department and the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth collaborated to measure more than 10,000 local children (about 25 percent of all kindergartners through eighth- graders). The results: 37 percent were overweight or obese.

This difference in findings points to more than just a difference in methodology, but illustrates how statewide numbers don't always tell the local story.

The good news is that some significant changes in policy and practice have occurred in recent years, thanks in part to the efforts of the coalition and numerous other people and organizations concerned about this epidemic. We concur that with The Register-Guard that "Oregonians must be doing something right (and) should make an effort to discover the causes of their success, keep up the good work and do more of it."

However, if we are to decrease local obesity rates, we must support families seeking the best nutrition for their children today, and we must provide greater protective factors across the lifespan into adulthood. Protective factors are family or community conditions that, when present, increase the health and well- being of children and families. They serve as buffers, helping parents find resources or coping strategies that allow them to be effective parents, even under stress.

In nutrition and obesity prevention, protective factors include school meals free from unnecessary added sugars and fats (such as flavored milk and breaded, deep-fried foods). They also would include policies that promote healthy physical activity and nutrition environments.

Issues that need particularly close examination include the availability and affordability of healthful food (especially where it is hard to find, as is the case in rural and low-income neighborhoods) as well as reducing the pervasiveness of less healthful foods and beverages. …

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