Fighting childhood obesity

Published 11:03 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Suffolk event on Friday will help adults glean the knowledge of area teens and pre-teens on the obesity epidemic that is plaguing their generation.

The event, sponsored by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, is part of a statewide discussion series on childhood obesity. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Temple Beth El, 3927 Bridge Road.

“We’re focusing in on the youth in the area,” said Costellar Ledbetter, co-chair of the Suffolk event. “We’re educating our young people about healthy eating lifestyles. As it is right now, we have about 25 million young people that are obese. That is detrimental in that many of them acquire diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, cancer and several other things.”

In addition to educating young people about healthy eating and active lifestyles at the event, those in attendance will be able to give their opinions on how to encourage healthy communities.

“It’s a way to bring the community together, particularly the youth, and get them to understand the crisis and become more aware of how it’s impacting the community,” said Seneca Bock, regional organizer for the project. “We want to hear from them their understandings, beliefs and opinions about childhood obesity.”

Students who attend the event will learn about healthy living in practice as well as in theory, Bock said. At the beginning of the day, a fitness instructor will lead the group through physical activity to “get our endorphins going,” Bock said. In addition, lunch served at the event will include healthy sandwiches and water — with no sodas.

“We do walk the walk,” Bock said. “You really can’t get rid of obesity unless you’re making sure you eat nutritious food.”

In between lunch and exercise, discussion topics for the students will include how the city’s built environment encourages or discourages exercise, what kind of policies should be formed to encourage healthy living, and more.

“We’re really trying to hear back from the young folks in terms of how they see it in their mind’s eye,” Bock said.

The idea behind the event is all about education, said Ledbetter, a former educator.

“A lot of times, people don’t have the proper information, and they do what they shouldn’t be doing,” Ledbetter said. “We want to make sure that they are educated, that they do have an alternative way.”

The statewide series also includes events in Smithfield, Norfolk and Blacksburg. The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s work on childhood obesity is partly supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.