Coalition tackles childhood obesity

REPRESENTATIVES FROM a host of public, nonprofit and private organizations sign individual pledges committing to an effort to reduce childhood obesity in Wasco County during a ceremony in the school garden at Chenowith Elementary.

Public, nonprofit and private organizations from throughout the region recently gathered to pledge their commitment to an effort to reduce childhood obesity in Wasco County, publicly signing pledges to the Wasco Childhood Obesity Reduction Community Action Plan (WCORCAP).

“The rate of childhood obesity in Wasco County exceeds both the state and national average,” said Michele Spatz, who with Dan Ericksen coordinated local participation in the project.

The plan was formulated under a program staffed by Oregon Solutions, a program of the National Policy Consensus Center housed at Portland State University and funded by the state of Oregon.

“More than one in three children in Wasco County are clinically obese,” Spatz said. “Perhaps for the first time in our county’s history, our children will not have a healthier life than their parents, nor will they likely live as long.”

Obesity has been identified as a primary health risk facing children in the United States, according to information provided by WCORCAP. It factors into increased risk of asthma, high glucose, sleep apnea, liver disease, hypertension, joint pain, early puberty, depression, social isolation and anxiety. Increased healthcare costs are also a factor.

“We know this is going to be a long term project,” Spatz added. “Now we begin doing it, together.”

Each coalition partner committed to specific actions to combat obesity.

For example, Subway Sandwiches and Salads, the only restaurant represented in the coalition, committed to working with partners to develop a “health star” rating system for local restaurants; to work with beverage vendors to supply naturally sweetened products; to work with Subway headquarters to support the campaign; to sponsor walkathons, runs, bike rides and more, and provide water bottles; and to continue displaying calories on their menu and provide bookmarks to middle school students on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables.

The community plan is focused on a three-part approach to obesity reduction, with each being addressed by a workgroup committee: a Healthy Food workgroup, a Sports Facilities workgroup and a Sugar Sweetened Beverages workgroup. The workgroups will report to a Childhood Obesity Coalition steering committee. The steering committee will coordinate and submit any grant applications or other requests for funding on behalf of the coalition.

The workgroups submitted a number of recommendations. The sports facility workgroup recommended the following actions: support the Northern Wasco County Parks and Recreation District (NWCPRD) in obtaining a grant for a facilities master plan study; increase transportation options to the community swimming pool, possibly with a “swim bus”; ask The Dalles City Council to fund pool related scholarships; to support creation of an indoor community center for indoor sports and activities; start a conversation with county school districts about making it easier to be active at school facilities after school and in the summer; to support efforts to complete the Mill Creek Greenway and to participate in discussions about the future of Kramer Field.

The Sugar Sweetened Beverage (SSB) workgroup recommended: Publically thanking organizations that have a SSB reduction policy in place and encouraging other organizations to do so as well; support and work with healthcare providers and early learning educators and providers to conduct SSB screening as part of routine medical care; to share reduction message 5-2-1-0, which means 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of physical activity and no SSB each day and support a voluntary restaurant certification complying with the SSB proportional pricing policy, which is based on cost-per-ounce regardless of serving size.

Each organization committed to one or more actions relating to reducing child obesity. For example, Acclaiming Christ Through Sports (ACTS) committed to actively pursuing a community youth center to be used by all of the youth organizations, an active garden on site where young people can learn to grow healthy food, cooking classes for children, teens and parents at the youth center and to support Mid-Columbia Medical Center’s “Level the playing field” project at The Dalles High School.

The City of The Dalles committed to facilitating outdoor recreation and greenspace, to encourage consumption of heart-healthful beverages in city-owned facilities and reduced use of artificially-sweetened beverages in city vending machines, support incentives and partnerships in support of locally-sourced food suppliers, consider funding pool transportation scholarships, and explore adoption of HEAL Cities program.

Other organizations signing pledges included the City of Mosier, North Wasco School District, Mid-Columbia Medical Center, Mid-Columbia Health Foundation, Mid-Columbia Children’s Council, City of The Dalles, Columbia Gorge Education Service district, North Central Public Health District, Oregon Child Development Coalition, Oregon Health Sciences University, Mid-Columbia Community Action Council, Acclaiming Christ Through Sports, Oregon Health Authority, Community Harvest Cooperative Grocery, St. Mary’s Academy, Columbia Gorge Community College, Oregon State University Extension Service, The Next Door, Inc., Planetree Medical Library, Pacific Source Community Solutions, Providence, Community Connections, Oregon Solutions, Wasco County Youth Services, Hatcreek Consulting, Gorge Grown Food Network, Subway Sandwich and the Oregon Department of Human Services.

“We’re better together,” Spatz added after participating organizations signed, together, individual declarations of cooperation in a short ceremony. “We can’t solve this without each of us focusing on a solution,” she said. “We need to build a community where all children thrive.”

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