CPS Reports on Wellness Policy Implementation

February 09, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

Barely a day goes by without a news article on the escalation of the childhood obesity epidemic, so most of us are keenly aware of and concerned about the health risks that face our nation’s children. Less often cited, though, are the statistics showing that this epidemic disproportionately affects children in ethnic minority and low-income communities.

According to the CDC, approximately 25 percent of Latino boys and African-American girls are overweight, compared to an already high national average of 17 percent. Disparities in Chicago are even more pronounced. In Humboldt Park, which has a largely Latino and African-American population, data from Sinai Urban Health Institute shows that approximately 62 percent of children are overweight or obese.

In their article “Targeting Interventions for Ethnic Minority and Low-Income Populations” (PDF), Shiriki Kumanyika and Sonya Grier point out that these disparities in childhood obesity rates present yet another challenge for researchers, policy makers and practitioners who are focusing on obesity prevention.

The authors conclude by suggesting that “preventing child obesity in minority and low-income populations requires thinking through all the issues that apply to the population at large and then considering how these issues might differ in a populations with different social-cultural characteristics and usually less favorable health profiles, environmental circumstances and life chances.”

As we work to address health disparities, it is very important to keep in mind the unique role that schools can play in reaching out to children most in need of nutrition and physical activity services.

On Jan. 25, HSC sponsored an event (view press release) where Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials reported to the community on their efforts to address childhood obesity through the newly-adopted wellness policy. We had the opportunity to hear firsthand about some of the wellness-related programs available at schools throughout the CPS system.

As CPS moves forward with the programs outlined at the January forum, it is my hope that those responsible for the programs’ success take to heart the approach offered by Kumanyika and Grier. To effectively battle childhood obesity, the programs must be tailored to reflect the needs of the children living in communities that suffer most from childhood obesity.