The New America Media Outlook on Obesity

Angry, Obese, Sun Statue

The magazine Youth Outlook is taking a stand against obesity with its guerrilla marketing campaign against soda pop, among other things. The publication’s departments encompass several “special beats,” including Health, Youth Culture, and Education, all of which are pertinent to childhood obesity.

Youth Outlook is a production of New America Media (NAM), a very interesting organization that acts as a hub for 2,000 ethnic news organizations. There are something like 3,000 ethnic media, which NAM calls the fastest-growing sector of journalism in America:

NAM is dedicated to bringing the voices of the marginalized – ethnic minorities, immigrants, young people, elderly — into the national discourse… bring the voices of otherwise invisible communities… into national and regional focus…

One of NAM’s activities is to form partnerships with journalism schools, to foster the growth of local ethnic media associations. It’s all about advocacy and collaboration. Anyway, Youth Outlook might print anything from an article about vegan soul food to a personal reflection on the frustration of being a fat kid with a skinny twin sib. (Then, once a neurotic regime of dieting brings about weight loss, there is the “spiraling internal hysteria” at any threat of a return to obesity.)

The same blogger takes on First Lady Michelle Obama’s big anti-obesity project with a complaint that it doesn’t go far enough, and doesn’t address body image issues or eating disorders. And then there’s this complaint, echoed by others, which may have helped to influence recent actions:

What is lacking from Mrs. Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign is a national effort to increase healthy food access in areas that don’t have them. … [T]he West Oakland residents still don’t feel like there’s much affordable and accessible healthy food options in their neighborhoods.

Just a couple of days ago, we mentioned how young teen boys seem particularly susceptible to the link between obesity and insufficient sleep, whatever the basic scientific reason for that might be. So this New America Media article by Viji Sundaram is very interesting, because it talks about boys ages between six and 19.

Sundaram interviewed Dr. Gautham Rao, of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and several other institutions. Dr. Rao describes obesity as complicated, “related to culture, poverty, taste preferences, health consciousness and different notions of what is a desirable weight.” He identifies the top five childhood obesity villains as sugar-sweetened drinks, fast food, too much screen time, not enough physical activity, and not enough family mealtimes.

Apparently, minority families don’t do well with the family-mealtime concept, another finding that shatters stereotypes. Baby boomers grew up with TV shows like “I Remember Mama,” in which the Scandinavian immigrant family always seemed to be gathered around the dinner table. Anglo-Americans have an image of many ethnic groups being much more family-dinner-oriented than themselves.

The reporter asks about a theory that newer video games will help alleviate obesity, because they are designed to be more physically interactive than the old, more sedentary video games. Dr. Rao says,

No, I don’t believe so. Many parents ask me about this. I always respond in the same way, with two questions:
1. Fifty years ago, how many obese children were around? Most parents know the answer is very few.
2. Fifty years ago, how many interactive video games were around?

He also confirms that childhood obesity is a relatively more widespread problem among the Latino and African-American demographics. At his Weight Management Center, those two groups make up more than half the total patients, so they are definitely over-represented. In response to the interviewer’s question about the food-desert concept, which blames obesity on the lack of fresh foods in poor neighborhoods, Dr. Rao punctures a cherished belief, saying,

Much is made of the availability of fresh produce, but that is only one, and perhaps an insignificant, factor. Many of our patients won’t eat fresh produce, even if it’s given away.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About New America Media,” New America Media
Source: “let’s move blog,” YouthOutlook.org, 02/25/10
Source: “Obesity Leveled Off in U.S., Except Among Boys,” New America Media, 01/21/10
Image by TheGiantVermin, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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