Slow Food San Francisco’s Mid Year Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) Conference took place last week and we’re thrilled to say that it exceeded our expectations. Some of the most active and influential people involved in childhood obesity prevention gathered to discuss important policy, health and youth empowerment-related issues. It was a day of education, motivation, entertainment and, hopefully, inspiration to do even more.
We were fortunate to have two dynamic keynote speakers. Kathryn Boyle, from Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) programs, talked about Kaiser’s incredible work, and the challenges they’ve faced in building environments for health. She previewed a clip from Weight of the Nation and explained how to get involved. Charlotte Dickson, Director of Local Policy for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, spoke about the economic and human cost of obesity. She broke the costs down into five categories: individual (ex. lost wages from weight discrimination), businesses, society, community, and healthcare. A moving quote she shared from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity really summed it up: “We need to fight obesity, not obese people!”
We also heard from James Kass from Youth Speaks and Sarah Fine from UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations, about health disparities in California and their collaborative Bigger Picture campaign. They passionately discussed the need to give youth a voice in the discussion of the epidemic of diabetes in their neighborhoods and families. And we were excited to have the slam poetry performances by Jade Cho and Jose Vadi, two peer educators who took part in the Bigger Picture Campaigns program (you can check out an online video of “The Corner”).
Throughout the day a central theme emerged: the human cost of obesity. So many kids are facing a compromised quality of life, both physically and emotionally. And there is a tremendous cost to society at large. It was widely acknowledged that individuals need to take responsibility for their health – but the environment and social norms must be addressed if we want to make real progress.
It was our hope that attendees gained a broader perspective on the issue, leading to more effective models for change in our communities and professions. According to Laura O’Donohue, director of the COBA conference, “The statistics that constantly come out predicting the obesity rates in the U.S. in 20, or 30 years are frightening. I want people to realize that we still have time to make sure those statistics never becomes a reality.” Laura is planning another conference for November and is confident that, with all the energy and amazing minds working on this issue, “we can not only stop the rise, and reverse some obesity trends, but actually start to create an epidemic of healthy eating and active living.”