Obesity study blankets problem

by Tabi Hoshmand, Staff Columnist

In Oct. 2011, San Diego State was one of the three grant recipient sites for a research project studying childhood obesity in Imperial County. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded more than $6 million to focus on children and families with exercise and nutritional challenges.

The Imperial County Public Health is a partner of this project and spends time focusing on children and their families in Imperial County cities. By honing in on clinics, schools, recreation centers, childcare centers and restaurants, the project can monitor the impact it has on the health of the children.

With this increase in awareness of obesity, it’s time for a real step toward a better community. Unfortunately, obesity is intertwined with many other problems that must be addressed.

Thomas McKenzie, professor of exercise and nutritional sciences and co-investigator of this project, explained that the weather conditions in Imperial County cause challenges.

“There are very warm and windy conditions (in Imperial County) often with no indoor exercise space and no physical education teachers,” McKenzie said.

Are these unfortunate conditions a real excuse for the obesity problem? By blaming environmental conditions, we’re ignoring the fact that other counties deal with this problem as well and have found ways to work around them.

Aside from weather conditions, demographic is a crucial component of this issue that has seemingly been overlooked.

The Hispanic population of Imperial County in 2010 was 77 percent. When comparing the average income of this county in comparison to the state as a whole, it is no secret as to why obesity rates are as high as they are.

“Childhood obesity among Latinos is reported as high as 50 percent in Imperial County, which adds many more risk factors for premature death,” Principal Investigator and professor of public health Guadalupe Ayala said.

The harsh reality is the average income for households in this county is $39,402, in comparison to the $61,632 for California. With such high poverty rates, proper nutrition becomes hard to maintain. Healthy eating is expensive, so the easy way out is by making unhealthy choices. Adapting to a healthier lifestyle is much easier said than done and will require a lot more time and money than this project is offering.

If the reason obesity is such a large scale epidemic is because of poverty rates, then the change must stem from that level first.

In order to permanently tackle obesity issues, there must be an alteration in helping decrease the poverty rates. With that, there comes the issues of side-stepping obesity and delaying the transition. Tackling obesity has many steps and this project is here to find a way to skip a few of them. Unfortunately, skipping steps is difficult — therefore, this project could be a complete failure.

The project’s focus is on children and because children learn eating habits at a young age, it’s important to start with them. Eating habits is a learned behavior that develops with children as they grow. However, they can’t work alone and that is why community involvement is important. But not everyone can be on board with a project that can be hard to implement when no financial assistance is being provided. You can’t fix a financial issue with the same allocation of funds.

This research project has four main components; exercise, nutrition, sleep and decreased consumption of sugary beverages. The habits of 1,200 children, ages 2 to 11, will be monitored over a period of 18 months. The results will be analyzed for improvements.

Even if the results throughout the 18 months prove to be an utter success, it doesn’t mean counties across the nation, especially those with financial barriers, can implement these actions toward its obesity problems. Though this project seems to be taking a step in the right direction, a whole nation’s problem can’t be fixed with one county.

Approximately one year is left in this study and hopefully within that year, researchers will understand the difficulties in letting these children facilitate the same habits taught to them without the help of someone professional.