A call to action on childhood obesity drew a standing-room-only crowd and six U.S. Congress members to a summit at Town & Gown on Sept. 10.
“We are here to discuss a problem that has become epidemic,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Obesity is not just a problem for the children at school. There’s a cost for all of us. The problem will get worse unless we do something.”
In cooperation with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, USC hosted the event and provided several national experts to lead panels throughout the day.
“We have to take action,” said keynote speaker Audrey Rowe, the deputy administrator of special nutrition programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Some people believe that this may be the first generation who will not exceed the life span of their parents. That is a scary thought.”
Nikias said the strength of a research university like USC is that it can look at a problem such as obesity through many disciplines: medicine, education, communication and public policy.
That ability was evident as Michael Goran, director of the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center, talked about the need to use tested solutions; Mel Baron of the USC School of Pharmacy shared the success story of his comic book-like bilingual pamphlet on diabetes; and Sandra de Castro Buffington, director of the Hollywood, Health & Society program in the Norman Lear Center, talked about placing educational storylines in TV shows such as CSI.
The event, which drew about 400, brought together clinicians, researchers, professors, community members and California policymakers, including Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Donna Christensen, Judy Chu, Michael Honda, Grace Napolitano, Diane E. Watson and Los Angeles City Council member Jan Perry.
“The elimination of health disparities must be a priority,” said Roybal-Allard, who represents downtown Los Angeles and the Health Sciences campus. “Childhood obesity is a national crisis and a precursor to so many health problems.”
The summit lays the groundwork for federal policy as Congress considers legislation regarding elementary and secondary education, child nutrition and even transportation programs.
“There is not enough done in schools to get students exercising, to be active, to change their lifestyle,” said Honda, who represents the San Jose area. “We have to accept the idea that this is about teaching good values and helping children make good choices. You need to be critical in your consumption.”
The summit was sponsored by the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the USC School of Pharmacy, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC and the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development. It was organized by the USC Office of Federal Relations.
“The importance of this meeting is to see how universities, the community, organizations and others can tackle the problem,” said Donna Christensen, who represents the Virgin Islands. “It kind of snuck up on us the way obesity has exploded, and it ought to cause us concern. People are finally seeing it. Now people want to see how to make the needed changes.”