Fighting childhood obesity

Published 8:24 pm Saturday, October 23, 2010

Community health: The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community has served as a catalyst for community health, such as the run to kickoff “Suffolk on the Move,” pictured at left. Their next initiative will target the youth of Suffolk.

Partnership turns to the youth

The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community is taking a modern approach to put a dent in youth obesity.

The partnership recently received a two-year grant of $60,000 to help prevent youth obesity. The organization plans to use it to launch “Healthy Moves of Suffolk Youth” — a media campaign to reach young people and their families.

“This is certainly something the community needs,” said Jaya Tiwari, executive director. “Suffolk is just worse than the Virginia average when it comes to obesity. It’s a bad trend on all fronts, and childhood and youth obesity are increasing problems. It leads to related chronic diseases that no child should have to experience. The trend needs to be reversed.”

The Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community was founded in 1998 to bring together stakeholders and community leaders with the purpose of providing a structure for mobilizing community resources. Its mission is to coordinate the resources in a collaborative manner to improve the health of the Suffolk community.

Two projects currently underway are its community gardens throughout Suffolk and “Suffolk on the Move,” a year-long initiative that recently began with an event at Constant’s Wharf.

This grant they hope will help them reach out and affect another segment of the community by allowing them to meet them on their own turf — social media outlets.

“It’s an innovative grant,” said Caroline Martin, president. “We’ll utilize social media to target the youth and engage them.”

Tiwari explained components of their initiative will include setting up a more interactive, user- and youth-friendly website, getting into Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, and setting up a blog.

“We want to use the technology that generation is most comfortable communicating and interacting through,” Tiwari said. “We want to promote a message of healthy living and active living in youth and engage them in motivating their peers.”

A second component of the program includes training 150 “health moves ambassadors” in nutrition and active living skills that they can use to help educate their friends and family.

“They’ll also serve as a focus group to discuss what barriers they’ve found to healthy eating and living,” Martin said.

“Rather than going in with preconceived ideas of what we think, we want to learn from the youth why they think their generation is more prone to obesity,” Tiwari said. “This generation of youth is innovative, and we want to work with them.”

By combining the two prongs of the program, they hope to further the partnership’s goal to make healthier families.

“At the end of the two years, we hope the youth in the city have become part of the fight against obesity,” Martin said. “We want them to become ambassadors armed with knowledge and the commitment to help other youths and their own families become more active and healthier. I’d love to see this move from us and into the hands of the citizens. And, if anyone has the energy to do that, it’s the youth.”