Group aims at childhood obesity

Published 1:01 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The epidemic of childhood obesity throughout the country is growing and one group of Brewton and East Brewton residents wants to beat the problem.

Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a local pediatric physician, helped to organize a training session to be held Saturday for members of the community who want to join in the fight to beat obesity in children.

“We have set up this training session for people in the community to come together and look at how we can face this epidemic over the next 10 years,” Raulerson said. “One goal is to help create a community where people can made choices for healthy activity and healthier eating habits with a low-range goal to beat the obesity epidemic.”

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Raulerson said some 40 people have made plans to join the Saturday session to learn more about how to go into battle against the problem.

“I was amazed at the interest in this session,” Raulerson said. “We have teachers, nurses, doctors and several community leaders who will be attending this session. There will be leadership people there who will learn what to do to jumpstart programs.”

Raulerson said the training session will focus on three areas of work to help fight the childhood obesity epidemic — community gardens, community centers and safe physical activities.

“We will be concentrating on three things during this session,” Raulerson said. “The first area will be on how to start community gardens. This group, headed up by Ami Cooley with RSVP, will be working on plans on how to create community gardens. The idea is that if a child plants a tomato, they will probably eat it. Community gardens will also, hopefully, increase the availability of fresh produce. Ami has been working on this project by writing grants and has the idea that retired people could help children plant the gardens.”

Raulerson said another focus will be how the community can gain a community center at the current Brewton Middle School location.

“When that school becomes vacant in 2011, we hope to be able to turn that location into a community center,” Raulerson said. “With work at the pool, basketball and tennis courts, it would be a safe place for children to go in the afternoons to help increase their physical activity. With a kitchen at the facility, cooking classes on how to create healthy, delicious meals can also be taught. The idea is to teach people how to cook healthy and to have a safe place for children to after school to be physically active. That’s our hope for this location.

Raulerson said the final focus for the session would be to discuss ways to help the children in Brewton and East Brewton become physically active keeping safety in mind.

“Vivian Layton has agreed to help lead this portion of the session,” Raulerson said. “She will help us continue to work on how to make it easier for Brewton and East Brewton children to be physically active. By working on walking paths and sidewalks we can determine a safe route for children to walk or ride their bicycles to school and be safe. We will also discuss joining dance classes or running clubs not to be competitive but for fun. We want to see what we can do to help children by physically active with their families.”

Raulerson also said a nationally known speaker will also be on hand for Saturday’s event.

“We have Dr. Sandra Hassink scheduled to be with us Saturday as well,” Raulerson said. “She is a pediatric physician from Wilmington, Del., who is over the children’s obesity clinic at Nemours Hospital. She is the national spokesperson for the childhood obesity epidemic and heads up the task force for that with the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Raulerson said the philosophy of the group is to help the community be a part of the solution for childhood obesity.

“The philosophy we have is not that it is a matter of personal choice, but a matter of building a community that supports good choices,” Raulerson said. “We need a community designed to help people make right choices. Now, it’s hard for them to do that.”

Raulerson also said the plan is for the session’s work to become a part of the Coalition for a Healthy Escambia County.

“We want this for our children,” Raulerson said. “But, more important, we want this for our community.”