Edward Hospital, area schools, agencies target childhood obesity. Learn more.
New campaign tackling childhood obesity
October 30, 2009
By SUSAN FRICK CARLMAN
The well-worn African proverb reminds us that "it takes a village to raise a child." A newly formed team of area organizations, however, is convinced that raising a truly healthy one is a job that can be tackled even more effectively by an entire county.
The Forward Coalition is an ambitious collaboration of nearly three dozen partners - hospitals, school districts, charitable agencies, planners and other entities - that celebrated its official launch with a gathering Thursday morning at Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Its aim is to reverse the trend of childhood obesity, and the serious grown-up diseases that commonly follow it, using a message based on healthy eating and active lifestyle.
"We're building an army today, and this is what it's going to take to tackle this issue," said Ann Marchetti, the initiative's director.
Among those at the table was Paul Zientarski, chairman of the physical education department at Naperville Central High School, who three years ago launched a program of early-morning gym classes followed by literacy instruction that illustrated dramatic learning improvement in teens who piggybacked the two activities.
After more than three decades in his profession, Zientarski shows palpable frustration when he points out that many schools continue to offer young students physical education just once or twice weekly.
"Unfortunately, schools do not care about obesity," he said. "They care about one thing and one thing only: academic success."
The growing health risk to kids in excess pounds has also been on Dr. Vincent Bufalino's radar screen for a while.
"Almost half the children screened at Edward have high cholesterol. We're worried about the next generation," cardiologist Bufalino - now medical director at Edward Heart Hospital and president of Midwest Heart Specialists - told a gathering at Naperville Central High School in early 2001.
He hasn't seen much improvement since then. Bufalino, who moderated a panel discussion at Thursday's gathering, described starting a program of cholesterol testing in local high schools with an expectation that maybe one in 10 teens would have elevated levels. The rate turned out to be 35 percent. In Naperville, 40 percent of the students had high cholesterol. Bufalino attributed the stunning statistic to "the Ogden Avenue syndrome: the most freestanding short-order restaurants in a two-mile span to be found anywhere in the region."
That, combined with post-mortem studies that found plaque buildup - a precursor to heart disease - in the brains of 9-year-olds, and the arrival of six heart attack patients younger than 32 in Edward's emergency room in a span of less than a month, cemented Bufalino's certainty that there is no time to lose.
Dr. Maria Rago didn't need convincing. The clinical director of the eating disorders program at Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward has spent her career working with people who struggle with food and all of the complicated baggage it brings with it.
Appearing as a panelist, Rago described some of the emotional wear and tear kids endure when they are among the nearly one in three young people who are overweight or obese.
"Just thinking about being teased - you never know when it's going to happen, so you walk around feeling bad about yourself," she said.
It doesn't help that society continues to condone making jokes that target large people.
"We blame the person," Rago said. "We think, 'Well, they just need to eat less, so it's OK to make fun of them."
Organizers of the Forward effort are still working on strategies for pulling together the $8 million to $10 million they expect it will cost to bring the message of early intervention to their targeted populations county wide in the next two years. One potential source is grants using federal stimulus funds that have been made available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The initiative will forge ahead immediately, grants or not.
"Go big or go home," Marchetti said. "Start today."
Naperville, Illinois (IL) - Edward Hospital and Health Services