With a few steps to the left and a few to the right, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin recently demonstrated the NAACP’s renewed focus on healthy living and childhood obesity. Benjamin danced the “Cupid Shuffle” with students from Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7 and Ward 8, two areas with the highest obesity rates in the city.
“It is no secret that if not eradicated, childhood obesity will be one of the many causes of premature deaths and chronic disease for our children,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. “The NAACP treasures the lives of our children and will stand with communities to fight against any systemic or environmental barriers that inhibit one’s opportunity to live a healthy life.”
Jealous and NAACP Director of Health Programs Shavon Arline introduced the guide along with a panel of health experts, including Surgeon General Benjamin. The guide provides direction for combating childhood obesity in three highlighted policy areas: external environment, food environments, and school-based policies. It calls for more recreational areas, increased access to healthy, affordable food in order to combat “food deserts” and a renewed focus on healthy policies in schools, such as more physical activity and nutritious food options.
“The three advocacy approaches were chosen for the guide because they are the primary policy areas that affect childhood obesity,” said Arline. “They also serve as some of the most appealing causes around which to mobilize communities, particularly because the issues are easy to identify and affect community members in tangible and direct ways.”
“With active units in every state throughout the United States, we believe we are well equipped to engage community and state leaders in this fight to save this and the next generation,” added Arline.
Childhood obesity is a major issue in communities of color, where children are more likely to be obese and live in unsafe communities where there are few opportunities for physical activity and limited access to healthy food. In the United States today, 38 percent of Latino children and 34.9 percent of African-American children are overweight or obese, compared with 30.7 percent of white children.
“We are emphasizing good eating habits, lots of exercise, lots of play. We want Americans to have fun, and to enjoy being active,” said Surgeon General Benjamin at the event. “We are intending to create communities and environments where the healthy choices are the easy choices, and the affordable choices.”
The NAACP leaders were joined by CommonHealth Action President and Co-Founder Natalie S. Burke, whose organization co-wrote the report, as well as John Govea, senior program officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the report.
Photo: NAACP President Benjamin Jealous