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College of Health and Human Development

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Ending the Childhood Obesity Epidemic through Education and Activity

kid deciding whether to eat a  donut or an apple

One of the reasons students choose a major in Child and Adolescent Development is an interest in child advocacy issues.  So it was no surprise that when the Advocacy Committee of the department’s alumni chapter met for a brainstorming session about projects that advocate for children, the idea of a mini-conference on childhood obesity came up.

The event, held in early March, had the largest attendance of any department alumni chapter event to date. “We had about ninety five people there,” said Joyce Munsch, Child and Adolescent Development faculty and moderator for the event.  “Dr. Carol Kelly, the faculty advisor for the CADV Alumni chapter, really championed this idea,” she added. Kelly is emeritus faculty and still very much involved with current students and alumni. 

“I serve as the liaison between alumni chapter and department.” Munsch said. “The origin of this Childhood Obesity Event came directly from our alumni and I think it reflects a genuine interest in a very important topic that affects many children today. Dr. Kelly found saw a way to pull people together across the disciplines to address a common theme. And, of course, obesity is a multifaceted problem and there is no one simple way to address it.”

A mix of Child and Adolescent Development students and faculty, as well as community professionals from the Alumni Chapter, welcomed students from outside the major, including students from Kinesiology, Family and Consumer Sciences, and from beyond the College of Health and Human Development, students from Pan African Studies were brought to the event by Dr. Theresa Renee White, director of the CSUN Dubois-Hamer Institute, (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences).

The institute works to address the needs of African American students and is focused on the concept of family.  It takes on projects that can establish and strengthen support networks within the university and local in communities. The first The first panel was led by White and undergraduate CADV major Deshonay Dozier, who is working with her.

mom and child eating a healthy meal together

 “Deshonay has been working with Dr. White on a project that explores the extent of obesity in minority communities,” Munsch said. “To start off the event, she presented the scope of the problem, how many people are affected, and what geographical areas are seeing the highest levels of obesity.”  The problem is worse in poor areas, as carbohydrates tend to be foods that fill people up faster, and are less expensive in the short run.  “Also,” Munsch said, “lower socio-economic areas tend to have less access to fresher foods.”

Through the efforts of the Marilyn Magaram Center for Food Science, Nutrition and Dietetics (in FCS), a group of faculty from the College of Health and Human Development has secured a group grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Dr. Joyce Gilbert, Director of the Magaram Center, described the overall goals of the grant and the rationale behind it, which is to implement a multi-component comprehensive intervention at three elementary schools in the Van Nuys community.

kids running on the lawn

Kinesiology faculty MaryJo Sariscsany spoke about the ways her academic team is working to increase physical activity in the schools, and made a point of saying there are ways to increase fitness without the typical team sports and organized activities.  “Mary Jo made a point about how there are so many activities kids can do on their own anywhere without buying equipment,” Munch said.  “Kids can mark the playground with chalk or paint and can play all kinds of games that have them running around, even dancing, and they might not even need a ball, let alone a ride to soccer practice.” 

“Overall,” said Muncsh, “PE often is not required in the schools. The schools have some flexibility, but as budgets are cut, so are PE programs.” Munsch made reference to a variety of studies that show academic performance is better in classes where there are breaks and an opportunity for activity.  “There are Asian cultures where academics are quite intensive, but every hour of classroom instruction includes fifteen minutes of physical activity.”  The consensus of research shows that children need to get up, move around take in some oxygen, refresh their brains before working more. “If people think playtime is just wasted time,” Munsch said, “they need to understand that it’s not – it’s part of the total picture.”

healthy salad

Dr. Terri Lisagor of Family and Consumer Sciences wowed the group with show and tell about just how much food is in an average size serving.  A piece of steak should be about the size of a deck of cards, a serving of peanuts should fit easily in one open hand. And just how much fat is in that tall glass of ice cold whole milk?  She had vials that showed the various levels of fat in each classification of milk. The representation of fat in whole milk nearly tops the vial. 

The event ended with a Q and A session, and participation was enthusiastic. “After the group broke up, people hung around to ask the speakers questions,” Munsch said, “There was a lot of good communication in that room and a free flow of information. We’re involved and addressing critical need within community. We have lots of good information that goes beyond the grant itself. The hope is that kids will get info they can carry home, share with their families and neighborhoods and make part of their lifestyles.”

- Joyce Munsch with Jean O'Sullivan