Posted February 22, 2010

Temple University research fuels national discussion on childhood obesity

At a meeting of about 200 invited guests, First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday lauded research done at Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education as “extraordinary and revolutionary,” and said that she hoped it could serve as a model for the country.

She also cited the research on her blog, calling it “a very good attempt at reducing child obesity from both the supply side and the demand side, something that must be addressed, and the kind of local, on-the-ground program that's crucial for the success of Let's Move,” the national initiative she launched last week that focuses on reducing the rates of childhood obesity.

Gary Foster, director of CORE, was an invited guest at the meeting, which took place at Fairhills Elementary School in North Philadelphia. He also attended a smaller 10-person meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to discuss solutions to the dual problems of obesity and food insecurity among children.  Foster said he was excited that the First Lady is taking a leadership role on the public health crisis of childhood obesity, and was encouraged by her praise.

“We are honored that she chose Philadelphia and one of our community based initiatives with The Food Trust as the venue to outline her excellent plan,” he said.

At the meeting, the First Lady noted how the school is taking a proactive approach to curbing incidences of childhood obesity by offering healthier foods to its students, as part of a study run by Temple and The Food Trust.

One of the tenets of the First Lady’s plan is to improve access to healthy foods for children. Many neighborhoods in Philadelphia are lacking supermarkets, which Obama calls “food deserts,” and must rely on local corner stores to get their food.

She referred to the study, published by Temple University and The Food Trust last fall, in which researchers looked at the purchases of elementary school students — many of whom attend Fairhills Elementary — to determine how much they were spending and what they were buying.

The study found that kids were spending a little over $1.07, enough for two items, and loading up on things like chips, candy and sugar-sweetened beverages. The researchers said that knowing students’ snack preferences could enable store owners to substitute healthier options in the future.

“Having her cite our research underscores the importance of developing and evaluating community-based initiatives, here and nationally, to help reverse childhood obesity and its serious consequences,” said Foster.