Experts examine environment, obesity in forum hosted by UTHealth
Fourth annual Michael & Susan Dell Lectureship in Child Health
takes comprehensive look at childhood obesity epidemic
AUSTIN – (March 15, 2010) – From French fries to sugary sodas, the social and environmental conditions influencing the rise in childhood obesity will be the focus of the fourth annual Michael & Susan Dell Lectureship in Child Health hosted by UTHealth at 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 17, at the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center in Austin.
The event is held by the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Obesity expert Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, is this year’s keynote speaker and will present “Addressing Nutrition and Obesity Issues By Changing Defaults.”
Brownell, a professor of psychology and epidemiology and public health at Yale University, is internationally known for his research in obesity, including marketing food products to children. His research focuses primarily on obesity and the intersection of behavior, environment and health with public policy. In 2006, he was named one of "The World's 100 Most Influential People" by Time Magazine.
“Dr. Brownell has been one of the leading pioneers in the efforts to hold the food industry and government agencies accountable for their role in the obesity epidemic,” said Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., professor and director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living, located at the UTHealth School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus.
In his address, Brownell will discuss government involvement in nutrition regulation and placing a tax on sugary beverages to cover costs tied to obesity.
“The nation faces a crisis with obesity and nutrition, which demands innovation by government and in communities,” said Brownell. “This is the right conference at the right time."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates obesity costs the U.S. government $147 billion a year. National obesity rates show 16.9 percent of U.S. children ages 2-19 are classified as obese, according to the CDC. Recent research from Hoelscher’s School, Physical Activity and Nutrition Study showed obesity rates range from 34 percent among 11th grade students to 42 percent among fourth grade students.
The keynote address will be followed by two open-forum presentations and a panel discussion. Forum speakers include Kenneth Warner, Ph.D., dean of The University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Lew Kuller, M.D., Dr.P.H., distinguished university professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. The panel discussion will be moderated by Steven Kelder, Ph.D., co-director of UTHealth Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living. The presentations and panel discussion will focus on public health interventions that can be implemented to reduce obesity rates and address policy changes. These interventions include taxes on fast-food drive-through use, mandates on physical education, removal of vending machines from schools and workplaces and policy changes regarding marketing of foods to children.
“We hope the conference will serve as a catalyst for new research ideas and increase the public’s knowledge of the obesity epidemic,” said Kelder, professor of epidemiology at the UTHealth School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus. “Eradicating childhood obesity requires partnerships among scientists, community members and key decision-makers.”
The Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living’s core program is the Coordinated Approach To Child Health program (CATCH). CATCH is a Texas Education Agency-approved program designed to promote physical activity and healthy food choices and prevent tobacco use in elementary school children.
Recent research led by Hoelscher found an 8.3 percent decrease in obesity prevalence from spring 2007 to spring 2008 in children in the CATCH Community School program compared to a 1.3 percent decrease in students enrolled in the CATCH BasicPlus program. Creating safe environments for physical activity and making healthy foods easily accessible are two environmental changes that can fight obesity, according to Hoelscher. She also suggests using social media to promote healthy eating and physical activity and providing children with healthy lifestyle role models can make a positive impact on the battle against obesity.
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