Worldwide, obesity prevalence has more than doubled since 1980, according to the World Health Organization. Specifically in the United States, West Virginia ranks highest in obesity while Colorado takes the award for lowest, as reported in 2016 by the Rhode Island State of Obesity Organization. Where does Rhode Island fall on this ranking? In 2016 it was reported that 26.6 percent of Rhode Island adults live with this chronic disease.

However, there is some good news to this story for obesity is preventable. Efforts should start in childhood because this is when lifestyle habits and food preferences are established. Working together as a society, focusing on prevention, chronic disease development may be avoided.

At the University of Rhode Island, our community nutrition research lab works towards childhood obesity prevention. Obesity is far from simple as it involves many factors: nutrition, physical education, environmental conditions, and genetic factors. Why should you care?

Obesity impacts every person’s life and pocket, whether directly or indirectly. Funded by your tax money contributions, health care costs have skyrocketed in response to the rising obesity rates. The annual healthcare cost for obesity is a stunning $190.2 billion. It’s not only an adult problem. Childhood obesity medical costs are at $14 billion each year in this country.

Prevention efforts that focus on children have the potential to save every state millions. Think about the different departments that money could be allocated towards. Many schools, clubs, sports teams, or any other efforts could be funded with this money if it didn’t end up in hospitals. While hospitals play a pivotal role in treatment, they are handling the intervention phase; healthcare professionals work with their given tools to treat patients, but this isn’t targeting the root of the problem.

Prevention involves policy change, school systems, physical activity space, supermarkets available and a community wide collaboration effort. As researchers, we wish to improve the quality of food provided in daycare and educational settings as well as increase awareness in order to prevent obesity from developing. Children already spend a majority of their days there and rely on these settings to provide them with a healthy, balanced meal. Particularly for children, their nutritional intake directly impacts their physical and cognitive development.

Obesity impacts every organ in the body, rewiring the ability to metabolize energy used to power thinking and physical activity. Working together, we can educate and empower community members to implement prevention efforts. As researchers, we wish to improve our communication with the public. What we learn serves to benefit the community as a whole, and your voice does matter. We are here to listen.

Your actions go a long way, and preventative measures are always best. Establish healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. This entails following a balanced diet as laid out by My Plate, a free online source anyone may access. Overall it advocates for a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as promotes whole grains and reducing sugar intake from desserts and soda. Keep in mind physical activity and nutrition go hand in hand. Adequate nutrition fuels our brains and all 605 muscles. Think about a long day where you may have skipped a meal, how is your concentration affected? Overall, staying active, modeling healthy behavior choices, and striving for adequate sleep on a regular basis are key.

Finding nutritional information is tricky, so keep your critical thinking cap on and only trust credible sources. Always fact check and make sure your information is trustworthy.  Beware of the media flooding us with advertising schemes to sell their products. Importantly, it is in your benefit to seek out nutrition education. After all, when it comes to understanding nutrition, you’re only going to use this knowledge for the rest of your life.  

By: Jessie Boukarim