Florida Today-“Luckily for Tallahassee, a coalition representing multiple interests has formed to address the growing concern over childhood obesity”

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8:16 PM, May. 20, 2011

In most cases, problems impacting a community are not resolved unless there is a clear vision and a firm commitment to seek sustainable solutions.

Luckily for Tallahassee, a coalition representing multiple interests has formed to address the growing concern over childhood obesity, a health issue that can have long-term, damaging effects on not only these children, but also our community and its education and health care systems.

Here’s why this is important:

• Florida is 21st in the country for the prevalence of childhood obesity.
• In Florida, 32.5 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight, compared with the national average of 30.6 percent. Large percentages of these are poor, minority children.
• Among Florida’s high-school students, 62 percent did not meet recommended levels of physical activity.

Dr. Cynthia Harris, co-chair of the coalition and director and professor of the FAMU Institute of Public Health, said the result is more children affected by diseases such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

“We’re talking about compromising the future of Tallahassee,” she said. “This doesn’t have to be the case.”

Already, there are programs in place in Leon County Schools to address this problem through concerted efforts to encourage more physical activity among children and to influence changes in their eating habits. Florida Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Adam Putnam was successful in getting legislative approval to move management of school lunch programs to his agency. He is a strong proponent of linking Florida’s agricultural interests with school districts to provide a broader range of fresh vegetables and fruits.

But attacking the issue locally is the Childhood Obesity Prevention Education Coalition, which is supported by funding from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It represents a conglomerate of agencies, including Capital Health Plan, Florida A&M and Florida State universities, faith-based organizations and health and fitness groups.

The coalition’s efforts are important in that it includes a diverse representation of the community, it is committed to using its resources to find solutions such as increasing access to community gardens, and its relationship with Blue Cross/Blue Shield provides for access to $200,000 in mini-grants for community efforts. (For more on the program, call Harris at 850-599-8655 or email her at Cynthia.harris2@famu.edu).

On Friday night, in partnership with the Tallahassee Chapter of The Links, an international professional women’s organization that focuses on economic and cultural concerns of African-Americans, the coalition outlined its call for a strong action plan that will benefit the entire community.

The coalition points out that in Leon County, for African-American adults, 59 percent are overweight or obese, 83 percent consume less than the recommended five fruits and vegetables per day, and 75 percent do not get proper exercise.

To tackle the issue, Harris said the coalition will be working with its partners to address the lack of access to healthy foods, improving exercise equipment available in neighborhood centers, promoting safe walking areas and promoting efforts by teens who are living healthy lifestyles.

The framework put in place by the coalition is a sound effort, and not only sustainable but also effective in promoting a healthier Tallahassee.