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NICHD & Other NIH Institutes Aim to Prevent Obesity & Overweight in Children

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We Can! Program provides evidence-based intervention and education

We Can! Program logoThe percentage of children and teens who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years, and 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Like adults, overweight children and adolescents are at risk for a variety of health consequences, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and asthma.

To address this troubling trend, the NICHD has joined forces with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) to support We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity and Nutrition). We Can! is unique among existing youth obesity-prevention initiatives in that it focuses its evidence-based activities and education on parents and caregivers—the primary group for influencing youth.

"The National Institutes of Health developed We Can! to bring into our communities research-based information and strategies to teach children how to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors that can help them maintain a healthy weight," explained NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.

We Can! , which was launched in June 2005, focuses on three important behaviors:

  • Improved food choices
  • Increased physical activity
  • Reduced recreational screen time

We Can! offers the following curricula for parents and youth:

  • We Can! Energize Our Families: Parents Program is a multi-session program that covers the basics of maintaining a healthy weight. The fun and hands-on sessions, along with the companion parent handbook and workbook, focus on helping participants learn skills that can help their families make healthful food choices and become more physically active.
  • Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, & Be Active! is the NICHD’s afterschool program designed to help young people ages 11 to 13 become aware of how media may influence the nutrition and physical activity choices they make. The program culminates with the “Big Production”—an opportunity for youth to create a media project to motivate their peers.
  • CATCH Kids Club External Web Site Policy is an afterschool program targeted to elementary school age children to educate them about improved nutrition and increased physical activity. CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) uses a coordinated approach to helping children adopt healthy dietary and physical activity behaviors by positively changing the health environments of recreation programs, schools, and homes. The program was developed with support from the NHLBI.
  • S.M.A.R.T. (Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television) External Web Site Policy is an in-school curriculum designed to teach third and fourth grade children about the need to reduce television, videotape and DVD viewing, and video and computer game use. S.M.A.R.T. was developed by child health and behavior researchers in the Department of Pediatrics and the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

This unique program goes beyond individuals.
We Can!
is unique not only because of its focus on programs and activities for parents and caregivers as the primary influencers of youth, but also for including community involvement as a key component.

"Reducing obesity and overweight is critical to our children's future," said Duane Alexander, M.D., NICHD Director. "What they need is a strong support network—parents, caregivers, teachers, community organizations—to really help them succeed in adopting a healthy lifestyle."

When We Can! launched in June 2005, 14 Intensive Community Sites were selected by the NIH to pilot the nationwide program. Since then, the number of communities involved has grown to more than 173 communities in 39 states. These cities hold community events related to We Can! and provide curricula in partnership with area schools, hospitals, and businesses.

To encourage communities to take part in We Can!, the partners are launching the We Can! City Program, which extends communities’ efforts in towns and cities that are committed to improving the health and well being of their youth. The City Program helps to mobilize area residents to conduct and take part in activities aimed to prevent obesity and overweight.

We Can! CityUSA logoEach community in the Program will receive a specially designed road sign (right) in recognition of the area’s commitment to helping families learn to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. As another part of its participation, each city has pledged to offer We Can! evidence-based obesity prevention programs to both parents and youth in collaboration with community-based partners. In addition, each city will distribute We Can! tips and information to city employees.

To inform communities about the benefits of We Can!, the partners are hosting two, two-day regional events in two of the three inaugural We Can! Cities: South Bend, Indiana, on March 30-May 1; and Roswell, Georgia, May 3-4. (The third We Can! inaugural city is Gary, Indiana.)

The events have already attracted more than 150 community leaders, drawing from more than 14 different states. Participants will: learn about the We Can! Program, hear about the successes of We Can! cities and communities, receive training on how to use science-based resources available through We Can!, and network with others in their regions.

The partners in the We Can! Program are exploring other ways to work with communities, through activities with local businesses, school districts, community-based organizations, parks and recreation departments, state health departments, and health care systems.

For more information about We Can!, please select one of the links below:

Originally Posted: April 25, 2007

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