Five USC schools and prominent members of the health community attended the eighth-annual obesity summit Friday at Town and Gown, where speakers and workshops focused on the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Part of the first National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the summit attempted to lay the groundwork for future policies, and focused on mapping out the issue and discussing solutions.
“Obesity is not just a problem for the child who gets picked on at school or doesn’t get picked on the playground,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said. “There is a cost for all of us.”
Nikias opened the summit by thanking various officials who came from different parts of the country.
“I am convinced that together we can make sure the childhood obesity crisis of today is only a memory tomorrow,” Nikias said. “I feel privileged to be holding this literal ‘meeting of the minds’ here on campus.”
The nearly 350 people in attendance, including six congressional members, was more than expected, according to administrators who organized the event.
“It was a pretty amazing production, not only from standpoint of how it was done but by the attendance,” said Eddie North-Hager, a representative from USC Media Relations.
When the Congressional Hispanic, Black and Asian Pacific American Caucuses, or tri-caucus, asked USC to host the event, North-Hager said the university jumped at the chance.
Jennifer Grodksy, executive director of the USC Office of Federal Relations, said she believes the university was asked because of its place in the community.
“We are known as a leader in healthcare, and because of our location … We’re a target population and because of all our civic engagement,” she said.
The event also featured healthy cooking demonstrations with chefs and touched upon the need for future obesity research.
“Twenty-six percent of Americans are obese and we have no good data on type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu of the Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Institute.
The summit, however, is not the first effort by USC to temper the increase of childhood obesity.
Innovative projects are sprouting in an attempt to tackle the issue. A program called KNOWME, through the Viterbi School of Engineering, uses a mobile device to track a child’s activity level, sending text messages to a participant’s phone about his obesity-related behavior.
“While we have many experts focusing on this problem, we cannot solve it alone. All of us must work together. We must combine our efforts. We must pool our resources,” Nikias said.
An empowerment camp called Minority Youth Leaders in Action was held at USC in August. Led by USC’s Rossier School of Education, it encouraged teenagers at risk for obesity to increase their healthy options.
“I think they’re trying to translate hard science into intervention that would work in the community,” said Janet Schneiderman, an assistant professor of social work. “This is the epicenter of obesity in L.A., South Central, so we have a very good possibility of making a difference in this particular community.”
Keynote speaker Audrey Howe pointed out that hunger and obesity are two sides to the same coin.
“They are both fueled by a lack of nutrition,” Howe said.
The consequences of obesity range from diabetes to asthma to emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety and a lower self-esteem, Nikias said.
One in every three American children are overweight or obese, and particular ethnic groups and regions are more severely impacted, according to White House reports.
“It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that this problem will get worse unless we do something to make it better,” Nikias said.