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From Awareness to Action in Childhood Obesity

A Message from Priya Nair Heatherley, MHA
NICHQ's Director of Professional Development and Senior Project Manager

September 2011

We at NICHQ have spent the last year expecting President Obama to again proclaim September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.  It’s a perfect month for childhood obesity awareness, with all the familiar activities of buying school supplies, picking apples for teachers, and playing outside in the cool autumn air.

Since it was first proclaimed in September 2010, we have been thinking about the best approach to the 2011 National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, given our organization's focus on the obesity epidemic.  Earlier this summer, as we began to generate some plans, a lone voice from our team piped up asking, “Has September officially been declared National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month yet?”  Surely it had -- it was already nearly August 2011!  But to our chagrin, the declaration was still awaiting Congressional approval.  Our next question was, “Does it matter if National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is officially declared?”  Yes, of course it does!  But then again…no it doesn’t.

“Awareness” is a tricky word.  To be aware is to have knowledge or cognition of something.  For those that have been part of the childhood obesity movement, awareness was “so 10 years ago.”  It was long ago that the terrifying presentation slides first presented the CDC data, shocking us all into the realization that, for the first time in our country's history, future generations were at risk of having a lower life expectancy than their parents -- due to obesity trends.  The next shock was that it was not enough to tell someone to eat healthier; we as a society would need to make different choices to support healthier choices for kids.  The way we design communities, finalize nutrition and food contracts, and manage zoning regulations all contribute to the world we are creating for our children. 

Many of us engaged in the obesity movement have worked on propelling others from awareness to action.  NICHQ’s two major obesity projects thus far have focused on action.  In the Be Our Voice initiative, we have asked healthcare professionals to step outside their clinics and into their communities to advocate for healthier policies children and their families. In Collaborate for Healthy Weight, a cooperative effort between NICHQ with HRSA, we are integrating the work of the community, primary care, and public health sectors to advance the promotion of healthy weight and health equity.

“So,” we here at NICHQ asked ourselves, “if National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month hasn’t been officially declared, why couldn’t we just declare it ourselves?”  Couldn’t we declare it for all children and their families and their communities that are struggling to reverse current trends and let the voices of healthcare and public health professionals be heard as they continue the fight they started years ago?

We could only think of one good reason not to, but luckily President Obama formally declared September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month on August 31.  However, being a quality improvement organization, NICHQ would respectfully like to suggest an amended title: National Childhood Obesity Action Month. 

We look forward to sharing our ideas, stories and actions with you this month through TwitterFacebook, reports, and news updates.  Happy National Childhood Obesity Action Month! 

Priya

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