Transcript: The Big Picture

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So, I was telling you about Anita. She's been hired by the health department to figure out why so many kids around here are overweight, and she's gotten a few other people she's worked with before to help her out. These guys got together a few times, and then figured they needed some more people on board to help them really get a handle on what's happening--ideally people with a better idea of what's up in the communities where Miguel and Nick live. So they invited a concerned parent, and some people from the school district, a local youth club, the hospital, and other places like that to come join them.

Anita's group started by taking a long, hard look at what kids and their families are doing that might be related to this weight problem. They summarized it all in a list, including things like kids don't play outside much and they don't walk to school. They also watch lots of TV, drink and eat too much sweetened and fatty stuff, and don't eat enough fruit and veggies. Also, a lot of kids don't eat breakfast.

To start with, Anita's group has decided to focus on sugary drinks, particularly at Baker Middle, and walking to school, particularly at Pleasantville Middle. They know these are important issues, plus they've already worked with the staff at both schools on other stuff.

So next the team investigated what might be going on around the schools related to these behaviors. They started with the sweetened drinks and Baker school kids.

Anita found that kids at Nick's school, like Nick himself, often buy sweetened drinks at convenience stores near the school and their homes. Huge sizes, over 20 ounces sometimes, are cheap and heavily promoted.

Also, using a checklist to keep track, Anita recorded how many and what kinds of drinks are available in each of the vending machines at Baker Middle School. While the soda machines, by law, are shut down in the cafeteria during lunch periods, she found they are otherwise ready and waiting for dollar bills and loose change. The machines with sweetened fruit drinks and the like are available all the time.

Of course, her group also noted how heavily these drinks are advertised, on the machines themselves, on TV, in stores, on the radio, on billboards, and so on.

Given the limited scope of her resources, Anita and the others figured they couldn't do much about the convenience stores and certainly not about the advertising. But, by getting even more people on board--like parents, student,s and the principal--they had hope for changing what was sold in the vending machines at schools.

But they needed to figure out why so many sugary drinks were in the machines in the first place, so they did a little further investigating.

In talking with families and school staff, Anita discovered that the school administrators and many parents don't know that the fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages are often packed with as many calories and as much sugar as the carbonated stuff. The kids don't know it either--they think the fruit and sport drinks are healthy. Plus there aren't a lot of other drink choices in the machines.

Anita wasn't sure the school really wants to change what is in the machines, either, because it also turns out that Baker Middle School uses the proceeds to fund activities like field trips, sports equipment, and the school band. Without the money from selling these drinks, it looked like all of these things would have to be cut.

As for kids walking to Pleasantville Middle School, Anita's group assumed it was probably a sidewalk problem or an issue of distance. But after talking to parents and kids in Miguel's neighborhood, along with doing a survey, they realized that the real issue is a busy intersection all the kids have to cross to get to school. That, combined with pressure from the kids on their parents for rides, seemed to be the main reason many of the kids aren't walking to school.

So, that's Anita's take on what's going on at Nick's school with sweetened beverages and Miguel's school with not walking to school. Now her group is ready to share their information and get some additional key people on board to actually make changes.

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Cornell NutritionWorks: Preventing Childhood Obesity
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