Tackling Obesity Before It Starts
The available data suggest that this weight gain should not be dismissed. Research published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adolescents who were overweight or obese very often remained so as adults.
As the evidence continues to mount that obesity is an important risk factor for many cancers, including colon, breast, esophageal, and kidney, NCI is increasingly focused on understanding obesity's relation to cancer and ways to change behaviors to potentially reduce cancer risk. This is why NCI is participating in a new program called We Can! that is focused on preventing overweight and obesity among youths aged 8 to 13 through improved diet and increased exercise. The initiative - led by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - provides resources and community-based programs for parents, caregivers, and youths.
The evidence so far, says Dr. Louise Masse, acting chief of the Health Promotion Research Branch in the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), suggests behavioral interventions such as tailored nutrition and exercise programs, combined with counseling, have a greater impact on changing behavior compared with educational programs that focus only on changing awareness.
"Starting young is very critical," adds Dr. Linda Nebeling, acting associate director of the DCCPS Behavioral Research Program at NCI. "And the kids have to be engaged so they make healthy eating and exercise an integral, routine part of their lives, just like brushing their teeth or combing their hair every morning."
We Can!, which will be facilitated through local public health agencies, will help parents teach their children to get moderate exercise on most days of the week, eat diets richer in fruits and vegetables, consume smaller portions, and eat fewer high-fat foods that are low in nutrients.
"Parents are very eager to know what is good to eat for their kids," says Tina Shubert, with the Montgomery County (Maryland) Department of Recreation, one of the 14 communities that has agreed to be an "intensive" We Can! site. "A lot of them just don't know what to buy."
Reaching children "really starts with the parents," Shubert adds. "They are the ones buying the snacks and taking their children to fast food places."