Matt Slocum, AP
Children's Medical Center employee Terry Wade, left, lines up others behind EmmaLee Duckworth, center, 5, to play in a game of kickball during a program at Children's Medical Center to help families with overweight children get healthier in Dallas.
Obesity is epidemic in childhood and presents a threat to both child health and to health across the lifespan. —Dr. Sandra Hassink

Saying that it has become a major threat to children's health in the United States, the American Academy of Pediatrics just launched a "major" initiative to both prevent and treat obesity and overweight among children.

They hope to present American families with evidence-based resources to address weight, according to the campaign's launch in New Orleans at the group's national conference this week.

"Obesity is epidemic in childhood and presents a threat to both child health and to health across the lifespan," said Dr. Sandra Hassink, chair of the steering committee of a newly formed AAP Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight. "Pediatricians are in the best position to combat childhood obesity because they are dedicated to children's health and well-being and build long-term, trusting relationships with families."

The institute "will provide pediatricians and other professionals with the tools and knowledge they need to provide care that begins with research and ends in real results," she said in a release announcing its formation.

Meanwhile, the Partnership for a Healthier America this week launched an initiative and competition on Facebook that ask people to come up with solutions to obesity. It noted that 12.5 million American youths are obese and 11 million more are overweight. The End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge will collect ideas and finalists will win a trip to Washington, D.C., to present their ideas to a panel of judges and to participants in the Building a Healthier Future Summit in March. The winner will receive $10,000 to kickstart the idea and expert advice to turn it into reality. Deadline is Nov. 16 and the applications are in the form of a short video explaining the idea. They are looking for ideas, not business plans, the PHA said.

More information is available on the challenge website.

Much of the pediatrician's group launch and initial effort will be financially underwritten by Nestle. And the plan is for a multipronged attack on the issue, from educating parents to teaching doctors the best practice. Early this year, AAP introduced the Healthy Active Living for Families resource to introduce nutrition and exercise guidance that families of young children said they'd pay attention to and use. It includes interactive features aimed at children to age 5. It can be seen online at

A virtual office platform for pediatricians called Pediatric ePractice: Optimizing Your Obesity Care was underwritten by United Health Foundation and showcases resources for obesity prevention, assessment and treatment.

The Institute of Medicine shows in graphic form the toll of excess weight on the nation's young and old. It notes that one-third of kids are overweight, which rises to two-thirds of adults. The cost for related health-care services tops $190 billion a year, while more than $4 billion is racked up in lost productivity. And tackling it, IOM said, requires changes to physical activity, to what we eat, to marketing, health care and work-place practices and to schools.

Campaigns targeting obesity and children are not new. And they have varying degrees of effectiveness. A Global News story noted a tendency by some campaigns to use shock and shame to try to change behavior. That doesn't have much effect, it said.

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“People are intelligent, they know they're busy, they know what they should be doing, they know they're not doing the right thing,” Dr. Peter Nieman, a pediatrician at Calgary's Pediatric Weight Clinic, told Global. The best campaigns, he said, are the ones that encourage one to do better, like Canada's Participation campaign.

Nieman told the Globe and Mail he sits down with parents of children who are too heavy and finds they often don't even realize it. Fat has become normalized. So he shows them growth charts and what is likely to result if the problem isn't addressed: "continued weight gain resulting in a significantly increased risk for high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many other serious conditions."

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