We finally got some better news from the childhood obesity public health front this week.  Tuesday’s CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that childhood obesity rates are stabilizing or decreasing slightly across the country.  In fact, 19 states had a significant downward trend in obesity prevalence among low-income preschoolers.  There was no change in Arizona- but that’s better than going up.  The study looked at kids between 2 and 4 years old that participate in WIC, Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program, and the Maternal and Child Health programs between 2008–2011 and found a downward trend in obesity- for the first time that I can remember in my career. 

Where do we go from here?  Basically, we need to continue to press ahead and implement evidence-based best practices – as turning the tide on childhood obesity will be a long term effort.  Here are a few AZ specific examples: 

  • We’ll continue to work with many county health departments on the implementation of the Health in Arizona Policy Initiative.  This initiative focuses on school health, worksite wellness, healthy community design, procurement of healthy foods (like having healthy alternatives in vending machines), preventive clinical care, and inclusion of children with special health care needs.
  • The CDC recently awarded us a new public health prevention grant.  Like the Health in Arizona Policy Initiative, the goal is to make healthy living easier by supporting healthy environments in workplaces, schools, early childhood education/child care, and in the community.  Arizona was one of 32 states to be awarded enhanced funding; in total, ADHS will receive $2M per year for five years.   Activities are expected to begin rolling out by October. 
  • State and local partners can continue to help communities to conduct needs assessments, Health Impact Assessments, action plans, and initiatives aimed at increasing healthy eating and active living by using tools like the Arizona Health in Policy and Practice Resources and the Urban Land Institute’s Community Plan, both of which help local officials to focus on a holistic approach to land use planning, zoning, transportation, economic development, real estate development and finance. 
  • We’ll continue to support School Health Advisory Councils which help schools to identify and incorporate best practices for obesity prevention including standards that promote healthy eating and physical activity, like focusing on serving fruits and vegetables, limiting sugary beverages, and providing more opportunities for physical activity, and reducing screen time- like our nationally-recognized Empower program does. 
  • Our public health system will continue to assist local businesses, communities, and local elected by educating them about the importance of and tools to provide opportunities for physical activity, healthy food availability, and improving access to safe, free drinking water in public places.  Maryvale on the Move is a good example of this kind of approach. 
  • We can also continue to help community groups improve access to local play spaces & increase opportunities for physical activity by helping decision-makers to provide easier access to safe recreational facilities by passing laws like ARS 33-1551   which addresses liability concerns of schools when opening outdoor facilities to the public outside of the school day- making it easier for schools to open playgrounds to the public so children have more places to play and be physically active.