New Effort Sets Stage for Action on Childhood Obesity
Release Date: 01/31/2007

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Public health officials, school leaders and health care providers team up to fight childhood obesity at the neighborhood level OMAHA, Neb. – Unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical exercise are contributing to the fact that one in every three Nebraska K-12 students is overweight or at risk of being overweight. But changing the community factors and personal behaviors behind the statistics is far from simple. Now, a group of public health officials, school leaders and health care providers has joined in a collaborative community initiative being led by Our Healthy Community Partnership (OHCP) and Alegent Health to tackle the problem at the community level. The collaborative group will provide a summary of action plans and introduce the leadership team at a public meeting on January 31 at the Gallup Organization in Omaha. “The obesity epidemic stems from a combination of physical inactivity and poor nutrition. In order to make an impact on this issue in our community, we must address it at all levels—from the food we eat to policies that impact our physical environment's ability to support physically active people. This information session is a unique opportunity to bring our entire community together to begin to reverse the effects of this epidemic which everyone has a role in,” said Kerri Peterson, executive director of Our Healthy Community Partnership. Among the chief concerns of the group:
  • Of the estimated 106,000 Nebraska K-12 students, one in every six students is overweight (16 percent), while an additional one in six (17 percent) is at risk for being overweight.
  • Students in late elementary and early middle school are most likely to be overweight, and there are concerns that eating and exercise habits established during this age period can carry through to later years.
  • Native American (27.9 percent) and Latino students (25.3 percent) are more likely than other students to be overweight. At the same time, African American students (20.5 percent) also are more likely than white students to be overweight.
  • Participation in adequate vigorous exercise declined from 1991 to 2003.
  • During an average school day, Nebraska high school students spend an average of 3.5 hours engaged in activities such as watching TV, playing video games and computer use – excluding homework.
  • Students are also drinking too much soda and substituting unhealthy foods for more nutritional options.
  • The annual hospital costs for youth associated with obesity have tripled over a 20-year period.
  • “We are the adults here, and it’s time for us to step up and provide new structure and support for families in their efforts to change course,” Wayne Sensor, CEO of Alegent Health said. “We intend to report periodically on the progress of our initiative, and by 2011, we believe Omaha will be nationally recognized as a collaborative model for achieving improvement in the fitness and nutrition of children.’’ Sensor said the group’s goals will be achieved by focusing on specifics ranging from neighborhood safety and youth enrichment programs to ensuring access to affordable, healthy food at the neighborhood level. Key to the effort will be establishing a long-term commitment from community leaders and donors, and demonstrating a positive return on investment that will help achieve sustainable funding for the effort. The action plan results from a two-day decision acceleration session convened by OHCP and Alegent Health in December that brought together more than 75 community stakeholders to assess current efforts at curbing childhood obesity, and identify associated gaps and opportunities. The session, structured around a process Alegent Health adapted from Silicon Valley and the technology industry, involved real-time identification of key issues, decisions about desirable outcomes and the establishment of benchmarks to quantify progress. Already, the community initiative to fight childhood obesity has attracted a high caliber team of local medical providers, public health officials and school and community leaders. The executive committee includes: Dr. Christina Fernandez, Creighton Pediatrics; Dr. David Finken, UNMC Pediatrics; Reverend Dr. Larry Brown, Alegent Health; Dr. David Filipi, Methodist Health System; Dr. Thomas Tonniges, Boys Town National Institute; Nancy Nielsen, Millard Public Schools; Dr. Adi Pour, Douglas County Health Department; Dr. Jeffry Strohmyer, Alegent Health; Marty Shukert, physical environment chair, RDg Planning and Design; Kerri Peterson, social marketing chair, OHCP; Dr. Jennifer White, physical activity chair, UNO HPER, HYPER; Mary Balluff, nutrition chair, Douglas County Health Department; Anne Camp, funding/resources chair, Alegent Health; Dr. Magda Peck, evaluation chair, UNMC. Our Healthy Community Partnership is a healthy community initiative in Omaha, Nebraska. OHCP's mission, to create economic vitality by improving the health and well being of individuals and families, truly expresses its growth and movement towards being a catalyst in the community for sustainable, community supported change. Area health care systems, insurance companies, the local health department, medical schools, and public and private agencies have come together to foster collaborative, innovative approaches to improving the health of our community. Alegent Health is launching the collaborative effort as part of its broader vision to measurably improve the health of the community. Alegent Health is the largest not-for-profit, faith-based healthcare system in Nebraska and southwestern Iowa with nine acute care hospitals, more than 100 sites of service, over 1,200 physicians on its medical staff and roughly 8,500 employees. Alegent Health is making healthcare better with an exceptional commitment to quality and by providing patient focused care for the body, mind and spirit of every person consistent with its faith-based mission. Alegent Health continues the health ministry begun by its sponsors, Catholic Health Initiatives and Immanuel Health Systems, more than a hundred years ago. At Alegent Health, patients and their families find a continuum of care, from women's and children's services, primary care, wellness counseling, and senior care to cardiovascular services, orthopaedics, oncology, physical rehabilitation, home care and behavioral health.