Teachers, nutritionists, medical providers and health and fitness experts were among the 150-plus people who came together to learn about the growing American obesity crisis, at the Lake County Community Forum on Obesity Prevention held at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.
Participants also shared ideas about how to prevent obesity. Most prevention begins with children.
Following are some worthy ideas that came out of the forum:
Grow Vegetables in Preschool or Daycare Center
Carol Sternal, owner/director of Cherished Children Early Learning Center in Mundelein, told of her school’s expanding vegetable garden. It started with a kiddy pool filled with vegetables and has grown to two permanent raised beds. The children got plenty of exercise helping to fill the raised beds with soil, but the long-term effect is that they learned to love vegetables. The vegetables became incorporated into their daily snacks and the bounty even went home with parents for dinner.
“The children learned to love cherry tomatoes better than candy,” Carol Sternal said.
Help Kids Find a Physical Activity they Love
Not everyone is comfortable in competitive sports, but there’s bound to be some activity that kids would find enjoyable. Greg Moisio, physical education instructor at Waukegan High School, said the school revamped its program to give kids more choices.
“Introduce kids to as many things as possible and hopefully something will stick and become a habit for the rest of their lives,” said Gary Bennett, Jr., a Waukegan native and former major league baseball player.
Start a Farmer’s Market
Pam Navarre, director of the successful Grayslake Farmers Market, touted the benefits of shopping at local farmers markets, which includes eating more healthy fruit and veggies.
“It’s an opportunity to learn. You come to meet the grower. You get educated about fresh food,” Navarre said.
Walk to School
Susan Bekenstein, program coordinator for Lake County Community Health Services, recalled growing up in Chicago and walking to school, during the small group discussion at the forum. She suggested that perhaps children could return to that habit. Of course the idea would only work for communities with sidewalks.
In the bigger picture, communities need to be more pedestrian friendly.
“We need to have walk-able communities. We spent far too many years designing the world around cars,” said Mark Pfister, director of Population Health Services for the Lake County Health Department.
Encourage Moms to Breastfeed
Fitness really does start early. Becky Weitzel, breastfeeding coordinator and senior dietician for the Lake County Health Department, said studies show bottle-fed babies have a 22 percent increased risk of being overweight or obese. She said hospitals need to encourage breastfeeding from the start.
Workout at Church
Social Worker at Family Faith Center of Lake County Cynthia Gibson-Dyse spoke of an innovative fitness program run by the Jesus’ Name Apostolic Church in Waukegan.
“Families are working out together We had women who couldn’t even be weighed on the scales. Now they are losing weight and keeping it off,” Gibson-Dyse said.
Wear a Pedometer
Dr. Robert Hudson, assistant superintendent at Aptakisic-Tripp Community Consolidated School District 102, said some of the parents at his school are wearing pedometers as part of a Virgin HealthMiles program, through their corporation. He thought it would be a good idea for kids to wear pedometers as well, to build awareness and motivation to move. Hudson presented his idea in the small group discussion.
(Note: Some Patch editors are also wearing Virgin HealthMiles pedometers and have found it is an incentive to exercise.)
Jake McKelvy, executive director of health and fitness centers for Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, said there is a program which encourages doctors to prescribe exercise.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if a pediatrician wrote a prescription that a family has to go out and walk together after dinner,” said Greg Petry, executive director of the Waukegan Park District.
Reduce Screen Time
Numerous studies have linked screen time to overweight and obesity. In days past, children would come home from school and go play outside; today, most kids come home and spend their time in front of a screen.
Christy Arnold, lead dietician for the Lake County Health Department, said the We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) program focuses on reducing screen time and helping kids get active.
Leave No Child Inside is a national effort that aims to get kids back outside, playing, running, and moving. Not only is outdoor play good for the body; it’s good for the soul too. This idea came complements of this editor, during the small group discussion.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District is holding monthly Leave No Child Inside playdates to encourage outdoor play.
There were many more ideas that came up in small group discussions and there are sure to be many more. The Lake County Health Department is planning a website that will act as a resource for obesity prevention.