A new effort to address childhood obesity using successful elements of both primary care and public health was launched today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A four-year Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project, supported by $25 million in funding awards made available through the Affordable Care Act, will enable the project to build on existing community efforts and work to identify effective health care and community strategies to support children’s healthy eating and active living and help combat childhood obesity.

The project aims to target children between the ages of 2 to 12 years covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

CHIP provides low cost health insurance to more than 7 million children from working families. Although childhood obesity rates are high overall, those for minority and low-income communities in particular are even higher. Many diseases linked to childhood obesity can be prevented, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

Childhood obesity can be overcome by using innovative approaches to reach low-income and minority families; these strategies include combining changes in preventive care at doctor visits with supportive changes in schools, child care centers, and community venues such as retail food stores and parks. Community health workers will provide the link between families and resources in their communities. Their task will be to inform and educate those that are hard-to-reach, those with limited English proficiency and minority communities about disease prevention, including obesity, health insurance enrollment opportunities, and disease management.

As a whole, the grantees’ work will be based on improvement strategies for children’s health behaviors by involving the children themselves, their parents and other family members as well as the communities in which they live.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH stated:

“Over the last three decades, obesity rates among children and adolescents have nearly tripled. Obese children are more likely to have asthma, depression, diabetes, and other serious and costly health problems. This project will help figure out ways our children can grow up to lead long, healthy and productive lives.”

For identifying effective childhood obesity prevention strategies, the project grantees have included three research facilities at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the San Diego State University and the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health. Each facility will receive funding of approximately $6.2 million over a four-year period.

The University of Houston, appointed to be the evaluation center, will receive about $4.2 million over the four-year period to determine successful strategies and share lessons and successes.

The CDC will evaluate the findings and provide recommendations for successful strategies at the end of the project in September 2015 in order to prevent obesity among underserved children throughout the United States.

Written by Petra Rattue