An Inter-Governmental Approach to Childhood Obesity in Chicago, Illinois

By Bozlak, Christine; Becker, Adam et al. | International Public Health Journal, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

An Inter-Governmental Approach to Childhood Obesity in Chicago, Illinois


Bozlak, Christine, Becker, Adam, Herd, Jennifer, Teitelman, Andrew, Viola, Judah, Olson, Bradley, Choucair, Bechara, International Public Health Journal


Introduction

Over the last three decades, childhood obesity (1-3) has emerged as a significant public health crisis in the United States (4) and around the world (5). Almost 35 million of the 42 million children under the age of five who are overweight are located in developing countries (6). In the United States, childhood obesity is a major concern, with researchers there predicting that this generation of American children will be the first to have a shorter lifespan than the preceding generation (4, 7). Although some age groups (8) and localities, such as New York City and Los Angeles (9), are beginning to demonstrate decreases in childhood obesity rates, disparities still exist; especially for children in lower-income, African American, and Latino communities (10).

According to data analyzed by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), in Chicago, Illinois, young children in this city have had considerably higher obesity rates than children in the rest of Illinois and across the US. However, there are signs of improvement. Data analyzed by CLOCC show a decrease in obesity prevalence among 3-7 year olds over a five year period. A recent report indicates declines in obesity exclusively among Chicago Public School students (11). These improvements cannot be attributed to one intervention but are, in part, the result of significant coordination of obesity efforts in Chicago since 2002 (3). One important aspect of this coordination is the City of Chicago's InterDepartmental Task Force on Childhood Obesity (IDTF).

The purpose of this work is to align and coordinate Chicago governmental agency efforts to plan, implement, and evaluate policy, systems, and environmental change (PSE) strategies to address the childhood obesity epidemic in Chicago. The task force prioritizes children between the ages of 0-18. However, the IDTF acknowledges that early intervention is critical and thus interventions tailored for the early childhood years of 0-5 are emphasized.

Background of government collaboration on childhood obesity prevention

Public health experts widely acknowledge that government has an essential role to play in protecting the public's health (12, 13). In the United States, state and local governments are authorized to protect the public's health, a concept known as "police power," and there is well-established precedent for government to exercise this power for childhood obesity prevention. For example, state and local governments have exercised this power to require the posting of nutritional information in restaurants, regulate the sale of junk food in schools, and impose zoning restrictions to limit the location of fast food establishments (14). Government is in a unique position to assess public health problems and coordinate implementation of policies, programs, and services to alleviate these issues (1, 13). Additionally, public health experts recognize the importance of an interdisciplinary approach with non-health governmental agencies' participation in the protection of the public's health (1).

Through Internet research and discussions with health departments across the US, the authors found that other obesity-focused government coalitions and task forces, such as those in the cities of New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Columbus, tend to convene for a delimited time to develop an agenda and work on specific topics on an as-needed basis. Some are created formally by legislation and others are developed based upon a call from a local government entity. Although other childhood obesity prevention task forces may exist, the authors believe that the City of Chicago's Inter-Departmental Task Force on Childhood Obesity is unique given the length of time it has been operational, its multi-pronged and multisector approach, and the city's ongoing commitment to its existence.

Background of Chicago's intergovernmental approach to childhood obesity prevention

The City of Chicago, situated in Northern Illinois, with a population of over 2. …

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