The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that childhood obesity rates have declined in 18 states, including New Jersey. Director of the Office of Nutrition and Fitness for the New Jersey Department of Health Peri Nearon told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that she believes members of the community are working collaboratively to help make positive changes in children’s health.
New Jersey saw a 1 percent decrease in childhood obesity, which Nearon called “really significant.” She said members of the department are seeing the trend of childhood obesity going down, which she said she hopes will continue with ongoing efforts.
“I think that those of us in public health have done a very good job of bringing awareness to the issue. I think the media has also done a really good job of bringing awareness to this issue. And I think that public officials and folks at the schools and folks in the communities and certainly parents are really very aware of the need to feed their children healthy food and to have opportunities for physical activities,” Nearon said. “So I think first and foremost we’re seeing a little bit of a culture shift. I’m really encouraged by that.”
Nearon admits obesity is still an issue nationwide and in New Jersey. “I think folks know that tobacco and obesity are, in fact, the two greatest risks to our children’s health. So we know that our efforts will be absolutely continuing,” she said.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has made some changes to help get healthier foods to participants. “We’ve seen improved nutrition in terms of the food packages and incentives; women who breastfeed have larger food packages. So that’s another area where we think that there may be some correlation with the decrease,” Nearon said.
Nearon explained that her office sees a lot of health disparities across the board among low income and minority populations. “Certainly at the Health Department we are always focused on our populations of highest risk. And some of the work that we’ve been doing over the past five years and hopefully maybe some folks watching this will have heard about Shaping NJ, which is a public/private partnership of about 230 organizations,” she said.
Shaping NJ doesn’t just look at food issues, according to Nearon. She said the group looks at a variety of areas, including transportation, which is an important part of getting children outside. “If we want our children to be active, we need to provide safe places for them to play. So I think that one of our great successes is this partnership and working across sectors to make sure that health is considered in all policies,” she said.
Lowering obesity rates needs to be a group effort, according to Nearon.
“I think everybody has to do their part. And I think that’s what we’re seeing is a real convergence of sorts in terms of communities working to better the health for their residents, schools improving the lunch menus for their kids, changing their policies, child care centers making changes so that there are more nutritious foods offered to our youngest children, work sites making an effort certainly to lower their health care costs and have healthier employees. So across the board,” Nearon said.