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Are we winning on childhood obesity?

Posted by John McDonough  October 6, 2013 07:22 PM

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My favorite definition of the word "culture" is: "The way we do things around here."  And I add, for effect, "wherever here may be."  So this blog is about culture in America, changing culture.  Michelle Obama.jpg

I know. I should be writing be writing about the federal government shutdown. But what the heck do I have to add? And here's something interesting:

Every week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sends me an email digest of news from around the nation about advances, setbacks and developments in the war against childhood obesity. Often, I end up more depressed after reading it. But the digest of a week or so ago was so compelling, in a good way, that it made me wonder if there is something big going on that I have not really appreciated.

Look at these headlines (all linked to the primary source):

With Tastes Growing Healthier, McDonald's Aims to Adapt Its Menu
New York Times, Stephanie Strom, 09/26/2013

After Decades of Watching America’s Kids Get Heavier, Are We at a Turning Point? 
Washington Post, 09/27/2013

Congress Starting to Pay More Attention to Fruits and Vegetables 
National Journal, Elahe Izadi, 09/18/2013

School Cafeterias, Vending Machines Trading Sugar, Fat for More Healthful Fare
Washington Post, Lenny Bernstein, 09/27/2013

Nation's First Nonprofit Supermarket to Open in Chester 
Philadelphia Inquirer, Alfred Lubrano, 09/25/2013

Green Bay Representative Drafting Physical Activities Bill
Wisconsin State Journal, Andrea Anderson, 09/26/2013

Wyoming School Officials Say They're Prepared for Tougher Breakfast Regulations 
Casper Star-Tribune, Leah Todd, 09/20/2013

Can New Haven Drop 375,000 Lbs. in Two Years? That’s the Goal
New Haven Register, Jim Shelton, 09/25/2013

Childhood Obesity Rates among Low-Income Families Decline in New Mexico for First Time
Las Cruces Sun-News, Andi Murphy, 09/25/2013

Trails Could Be Hub of Activities and Economic Growth
Cincinnati Inquirer, John Johnston, 09/23/2013

To Combat Childhood Obesity, Food Marketing Needs to Change (Opinion)
Jackson Clarion Ledger, Lynn Evans, 09/23/2013

In Sioux City, Gym Class Reinvented to Combat Obesity
Sioux City Journal, Nate Robson, 09/22/2013

Wyoming, New Mexico, Mississippi, Ohio, Iowa, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Philadelphia.

It's not any single one of these twelve articles from newspapers all over America; it's the totality.  Read the list again, and try to get the total effect.  Let it reach you and get into the mindset that we may already have turned or are turning the corner in addressing America's obesity challenge.  Numbers seem to be going in the right direction -- but how real is that versus a statistical blip? 

What these articles convey is that the underlying culture of America -- when it comes to nutrition and eating -- is changing.  The way we talk about and do things around here, meaning the kitchen, the dining room, the cafeteria, the restaurant, the food stand, the supermarket, the farm stand, is changing, in the right direction.

Some will say it's the bias of the aggregaters. But I've seen plenty of bad news links over years.  Without empirical proof, I hypothesize that a shift is under way.  In spite of the huge financial advantages enjoyed by the purveyors of unhealthy and harmful eating choices, perhaps the truth is just too obvious.  Healthy eating and physical exercise make too much sense.

It's not just the varied geography.  It's also the mix of public policy and private initiatives.  It's not just one, it's both, reinforcing each other.  It's not diet OR exercise -- it's nutrition AND exercise. 

And it's not a message to relax. let down our guard, or declare victory.  It's a message that we can make progress, so let's pick up the pace and redouble our energy to win. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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