Childhood obesity a key concern for Michigan

Written by Louise Knott Ahern, Lansing State Journal
Sep. 15, 2011

When Rebecca Eldridge had her first baby almost a year ago, she had the same desire as any new parent. She wanted to raise a healthy, happy child. She knew the best way to do that was to lead by example, so she and her husband decided to make over their fast-food lifestyles.   The Lansing couple started exercising, cooking more and shopping almost exclusively at farmers markets and the Lansing City Market for fresh foods and lean meats.Today, they’re both 40 pounds lighter and much more aware of how important it is to expose a child to healthy diet at a young age.

“She eats everything we eat, chicken and green beans and healthy things,” said Eldridge, 28, communications director at the Old Town marketing firm Rizzi Designs. “If you don’t feed them junk from the start, they will never notice the difference.”

Eldridge was one of many Michigan parents who took to Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday to discuss a series of proposals
by Gov. Rick Snyder to tackle several public health threats from infant mortality to smoking and – most notably – childhood

During a speech in Grand Rapids, Snyder unveiled a 17-page dictum calling for Michiganders to smoke less, eat better and get in shape to help manage the state’s skyrocketing health care costs.

“To build a stronger Michigan, we must build a healthier Michigan,” Snyder said.

Chief among his concerns: the 12.4 percent of Michigan children who are considered obese.

Snyder announced that he has called on several state agencies to work with schools, farmers and doctors to develop programs that encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children.

But one proposal in particular captured attention. Snyder wants doctors to report the height and weight measurements of the
children they treat to a state database called the Michigan Care Improvement Registry.

The database is currently used to keep track of children’s immunization records, but Snyder has asked the Michigan Department of Community Health to revamp the database to include a field for BMI – a numerical score based on a person’s height and weight that measures whether they are at a normal or unhealthy weight.

“I am all for it,” Eldridge said.

Report voluntary

Doctors would not be required to report the information. Parents also would have the right to refuse to let a doctor report their children’s data. Childhood obesity activists said the collection of data is crucial to figuring out how to best fight the growing epidemic.

The data would allow public health officials to spot trends in certain communities and better identify such things as the age at
which most kids start to reach unhealthy weights, said Katherine Knoll, head of the Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan coalition.
Her group lobbies for legislative and social changes to reduce childhood obesity in Michigan.   “There is a need for data on a broader level,” Knoll said. “We don’t have what we would call surveillance data. When we can see enough data, we can start to have some real understanding of the obesity epidemic.”

Should be required

One parent activist said her only criticism of the proposal is that it’s not required.

Barb Flis, founder of Parent Action for Healthy Kids, said the data will always be incomplete until doctors are mandated to report it.

The only data currently available on childhood obesity comes from a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reports on middle school and high school students, Flis said.

“We have no data on what is going on obesity-wise with elementary and younger kids,” said Flis, who travels the state working with teachers and parent groups on health and wellness issues.

“It’s not that we want to get into someone’s personal business about what they’re doing with their kid, but if we don’t know where
we stand then we don’t know which populations of people are most at risk, what services to provide or how to prioritize those services around the state.”

Michigan ranks as the eighth-fattest state in the nation, according to the CDC. More than 31 percent of Michigan adults are obese.