Childhood Obesity Is Focus of Talk at Howard University

Kids Are Fatter in Washington Than in Rest of U.S.

Latetra Metts, a 20-year-old junior print journalism major, smiles uncomfortably when asked about childhood obesity. Although she is not obese, she says that many of her family members are; so as parents they do what they can to break the cycle.

“In my family, the adults are more mindful, since we have a lot of people who are obese in the family,” Metts said. “Even still, it’s not the same.”

“I really think the social norms have changed,” Metts said.  “Kids don’t even play outside anymore, even if it’s organized play. They would rather sit and play video games.”

This limited physical activity, and other factors of childhood obesity, is just what Dr. Denice Cora-Bramble, a pediatrician and senior vice president at the Children’s National Medical Center, came to discuss recently at Howard University Hospital.

Cora-Bramble explained the childhood obesity epidemic that the District of Columbia and rest of the country are facing.  She detailed why this is happening, how it is affecting children, and what she and the Children’s National Medical Center are doing to bring this number down.

Defining Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines childhood obesity as a body mass index that is above normal range in relation to a child’s height.

Nationally, the rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years, according to the CDC. 

The CDC reported that the percentage of obese children ages 6 to 11 years old increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to 19.6 percent in 2008, while it rose in children ages 12 to 19 years old from 5 percent in 1980 to about 18 percent in 2008.

Childhood obesity in the district exceeds the national rate. Here, 29 percent of children ages 6 to 12 years old are considered obese, while 15 percent of children ages 13 to 17 years old are obese, according to Cora-Bramble.

To solve this problem, Cora-Bramble explained, health professionals and state officials need to focus more on “what is in the household and what is in the surrounding communities.”

Finding Fruits and Vegetables

One main problem she, and members of the community, recognized is a lack of grocery stores in certain neighborhoods, especially Wards 7 and 8.

“You encourage them [families] to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, but they have nowhere to get fresh fruit or vegetables,” Cora-Bramble said. 

Ward 8 now has a new Yes! Organic Market at 2323 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E., in the Fairlawn neighborhood.  This is the first organic market east of the Anacostia River, according to D.C. officials.

The availability of safe play areas contributes to the inactivity, Cora-Bramble says. “Some parents just don’t feel comfortable to let their children go outside to play.”

Lauren Griggs, a 21-year-old senior speech pathology major, is also concerned about cutbacks in physical education and recess at schools.

“A lot of schools aren’t focused on outdoor-based play, so kids just stay inside now,” Griggs said.

Fighting Fat

Cora-Bramble and the Children’s National Medical Center are working with several programs, including C.O.O.L. Kids and FitFamily to help children before clinical intervention is necessary.

FitFamily is a program that works to manage obesity in children ages 6 to 18 years old by providing diet, fitness and self-esteem classes, while also educating parents on how to prevent childhood obesity.

These efforts are not only intended to help in bringing down obesity but, more importantly, to change the habits of families and children. That’s also what Metts hopes to do with her relatives.

 “While I can’t help with my family, the most I can do is make them aware.”