The Big Kid
By Michael R. Fraser, PhD CAE
Having grown up as the proverbial “fat kid” I relate to the topic of this month’s Pulse at both the personal and professional level. As a child I was very overweight – my jeans were “husky” sized and my shirts were always extra, extra large. I shied away from sports and activity because of my size, and the fact that I was always the last one picked for a team and the first one teased on the playground reinforced my aversion to physical activity leading to a vicious cycle of continued weight gain through my adolescent and high school years. My weight today at 40 is significantly less than my weight was at 14. Yes, I was a big kid.
Reducing the rise in childhood obesity is a challenge that is going to take all of us because the roots of the issue are multi-facetted. There is no one intervention that any of us can employ that will simply solve the problem. I know this first hand. While my physician encouraged me to lose weight for most of my childhood and told my parents I was too heavy every visit, the time in his office was brief and his advice wasn’t enough to motivate me. At school we had gym class twice a week but it was geared to kids who were already active and not necessarily those of us who wanted to try but weren’t good athletes. I hung out in the library instead of going to gym. After school it was easier to walk to the fast food joint and buy a hamburger on my dollar allowance then it was to get a ride to the local gym, pay my entry fee, and participate in an exercise class or other activity that I really didn’t want to do anyway. Our meals at home were generally healthy, I just ate too much and never thought about portion size or nutritional content. And of course my own mind and motivation were part of the problem: I loved junk food. What kid doesn’t? And there was plenty of it everywhere I went.
To address the problem of childhood obesity is to take on some of the most pressing economic, social and public health agencies today’s MCH professionals face. What’s the one thing MCH programs are uniquely positioned to provide on this issue? Leadership. MCH programs link public health and primary care – leadership that connects clinical practice and public health interventions. MCH programs bridge chronic disease, nutrition, WIC and physical activity programs – within agency leadership. MCH programs can leverage state resources to join health, education, economic development and land use – leadership that cuts across state government and bring all interested parties to the table. None of us can do this alone, and working together will pay dividends in future health outcomes.
Of course if I knew how good it would feel to lose 100 pounds I would have done it a lot earlier in life. The switch in my mind went off in my early 30s and I was strong willed enough and committed to lose the weight I had carried around with me for so long, but I also had advantages that helped. My neighborhood had sidewalks and safe places to exercise, my income allowed me to join a gym, and my grocery store stocked fresh fruits and vegetables. This issue of Pulse shows many of the ways states are actively addressing the problem of childhood obesity for families of all backgrounds. MCH programs have the reach, the experience, the partners and the leadership to address this issue. As the First Lady’s campaign suggests – “Let’s Move” and address this important public health problem together!