Combating Childhood Obesity with Healthy Choices

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: December 14, 2010

America's expanding waistline is not limited to adults. Approximately one in five children are obese too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To combat this problem, the state of Texas has implemented a number of policies that focus on environmental factors contributing to childhood obesity. E. Lisako McKyer, assistant professor of health education, is part of a multidisciplinary research team from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas charged with reviewing two of these policies.

The first is the implementation of Texas Safe Routes to School, which supports finding ways for children to safely walk and bike to school. The second is a change to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food assistance to low-income families to include healthier options in their food packages. McKyer notes that WIC participants previously could not use their WIC benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a number of whole-grain products. This has changed in the last year. "What we're expecting to see is that retailers will have changed how they display the products in accordance with WIC policies. Whole-grain products that were below eye-level will now be more prominently displayed," McKyer says.

Because shoppers are naturally inclined to grab the first product they see on the shelf, McKyer believes this WIC change will have larger implications. "A policy that was designed to influence a subset of people really does have a larger impact because everyone shops at these stores, not just WIC shoppers," McKyer says. "Here's an example of a policy that is meant to impact at-risk people having beneficial effects at the population level." Once all data has been collected on both policies, researchers will be able to look at their full impact across the state. "We know the schools that have received the Texas Safe Routes to School grants, and we can map the WIC clinics and the grocery stores where WIC folks are most likely to shop. We’re able to overlap our data and look at the effects of these two policies," she says. McKyer expects to see significant results in the areas where the policies overlap. In theory, these regions will have more children exercising by walking or biking to school and eating more nutritious foods.

The idea is that by creating an environment where healthy life choices are easier to make, children and adults will reap the health benefits. "We can say what we want about 'eat this, buy this, do this,' but if people are living in an environment where it isn’t conducive, you might as well tell them to catch a flight to the moon," McKyer says.