Press Release

2009 Childhood Obesity Conference addresses new challenges, approaches to improving children's health

| 03 June 2009

Focusing on proven strategies to improve children's health and prevent obesity is even more important during times of economic turmoil, according to organizers of the upcoming 2009 Childhood Obesity Conference.

Called "Creating Healthy Places for All Children," the June 9-12 conference in Los Angeles comes amid challenging times when more families are struggling with limited food budgets, and communities have fewer resources. One sign of the increased strain is enrollment in the state's Food Stamp Program, which jumped from 2.2 million people in March 2008 to 2.6 million in March 2009, conference organizers said.

Child Obesity Facts at a Glance

  • According to federal data, the prevalence of overweight children in the U.S. has more than doubled among 6- to 11-year-olds, and more than tripled among 12- to 19-year-olds.
  • A 2008 report of California 5th-, 7th- and 9th-grade students found that more than 30 percent of them were overweight and up to 40 percent did not pass a cardiovascular fitness test.
  • An economic analysis for the state health department found that in 2000, physical inactivity, obesity and overweight cost California approximately $21.7 billion, including related medical care and lost productivity.
  • The same analysis estimated that 5 percent improvements in rates of physical activity and healthy weight over a five-year period could save California over $6 billion, and 10 percent improvements could result in about $13 billion in savings.
  • Research published in 2003  estimated the national cost associated with obesity at $78.5 billion.
  • A 2006 report found that per capita consumption of soft drinks in the U.S. increased by 500 percent during the last 50 years, and that the average serving size increased from 6.5 ounces, or 88 calories, in the 1950s to 20 ounces, or 266 calories, today.
  • That report also found that 72 percent of school districts surveyed in California allow fast food and beverage advertising on high school campuses.
  • Only 2 percent of adolescents interviewed in the California Teen Eating and Exercise and Nutrition Survey met all of the dietary recommendations. More than half reported eating no vegetables at all in a typical day.
Compiled by the Dr. Robert C. & Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health
The 5th biennial conference is being convened by the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley; the California Department of Public Health; the California Department of Education; The California Endowment and Kaiser Permanente.

"Many vulnerable families will be hit hard by devastating budget cuts across the state and fewer resources from local and state programs, and we certainly don't want to backslide on the progress made over the years," said Pat Crawford, director of UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, cooperative extension specialist and adjunct professor of nutrition at the campus's College of Natural Resources and School of Public Health. "But it's during times like these that people need to come together and focus on prevention strategies that work, which is what we will be sharing at this conference. People realize that preventing obesity is more cost-effective than treating the diseases that go along with it."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the proportion of overweight children ages 12-19 years in the United States has nearly tripled over the past three decades. The rate for children ages 6-11 years has doubled in that same time period.

A 2003 study cited by the CDC estimates that medical costs associated with overweight and obesity accounted for 9.1 percent, or up to $78.5 billion dollars, of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998. A follow-up study found that at the state level, California led the pack with $7.7 billion in medical expenditures related to obesity.

Sandra Tsing Loh, author and advocate for increased public school funding, will deliver the plenary address. Other keynote speakers are Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, vice president and chief medical officer at BlueCross BlueShield of Texas, and Dr. Joseph Thompson, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity.

Other state dignitaries scheduled to speak at the conference include Dr. Mark Horton, state public health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health; Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction; Raymond Baxter, senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy at Kaiser Permanente; and Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and chief executive officer for The California Endowment.

Attendees will also hear from more than 100 leading experts on child obesity during the conference.

Some of the scheduled sessions include:

  • "Can Interactive Media Games Really Increase Physical Activity and Reduce Overweight in Children?" Researchers will present findings from various studies of interactive media games and their effect on the body mass index of children and adolescents.
  • "Secrets of Baby Behavior: Improving Compliance with Infant Feeding Guidelines at WIC." Researchers will present data from participants in the state's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program that link typical infant behaviors, such as crying and waking, to inappropriate feeding.
  • "In Their Own Words: Youth Taking Action to Promote Healthy Living and a Connection to the Land." Hear directly from youth who have personally taken action to improve the health and well-being of young people in their communities.
  • "Changing Healthcare Environments." Speakers will showcase improved hospital breastfeeding practices, changes in hospital food service and vending machines, and community mobilization in a diverse environment.

In addition, there will be sessions in which experts discuss efforts to rebuild urban infrastructures to enable residents live healthier lifestyles; the persistence of high-calorie, high-sugar food consumption; the impact and reach of digital food and beverage marketing that targets children; and the efficacy of school and after-school wellness policies.

The conference is considered the largest meeting on childhood obesity in the United States. More than 1,500 participants are expected to attend from a wide range of fields, including education, public health, politics and business.

More information about the conference, including program and presenter details, is available online at: http://www.childhood-obesity.net.