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Reshaping Somerville: The fight against childhood obesity

Seventeen percent of American kids are obese. Not a little chubby, but actually obese. Doctors define obesity in children as being in the 95th percentile or above the recommended Body Mass Index rate for their age.

Beyond the physical problems, there’s a strain on the health care system. Childhood obesity costs $3 billion a year. And many American cities are also unhealthy by design: The infrastructure we’ve built keeps us in our cars longer and discourages us from walking or biking.

But that is starting to change in places like Somerville, Massachusetts, where an innovative anti-obesity program is making real progress. In cooperation with our colleagues at Blueprint America, medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay traveled to Somerville, just outside Boston, to see how the program works.


A closer look at the obesity statistics provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

What is your BMI?

What is your child’s BMI?



  • Norman

    This is all nonsense! childhood obesity is *defined* by percentile so a certain number of kids will *always* qualify! obesity is not a disease or a cause of death, and diabetes and hyperension are much more aggressively diagnosed these days–and altho this report implied that it is more often diagnosed in children, it did not say by how much, and i don’t believe it is significantly more myself. this emphasis on kids’ health long before they would normally be concerned about it will not work as “play” becomes at best medicine and at worst punishment. yes, all the people in this report are WRONG! it repeats the nonsensical notion that future generations will have a shorter lifespan and here’s a clue: it is not happening yet, the stats still show our lifespan getting longer. And it also implied that video screens are at least partially responsible, and whether anyone believes this or not, it has never been proven–one study said the kids who watch the most tv also happen to be the most active! Shape Up Somerville was a failure, it had no effect on kids’ weight and it’s effect on kids’ health is unknown and unknowable. contrary to the statistic at the end, the CDCC has actually reported that obesity rates leveled off a decade ago. and the “expert” in the report said we didn’t want kids gaining weight during their school years, but in fact we do want them to grow as they mature. The biggest risk to our health these days is well-meaning people enforcing unhealthy “healthy lifestyles.”

  • Jim

    Excellent public health story. It points out that for public health measures to be successful, public policy makers must be on board. Simply telling people how to change their life styles is not enough. Wouldn’t it be great if in this election year the candidates were to campaign on what policy changes they would support to encourage better health?

  • Auroraborealis75

    Norman, I’m not sure if you know what you’re talking about or have REALLY done your homework. I’m an MPH student and am absorbed in the stats on a daily basis. The obesity problem is BIG (pun intended) and is getting worse with living environments and lifestyles that are not conducive to a nutritious diet and healthy activity. Obesity, a largely modifiable health issue, is one of the biggest factors in specific mortality rates and can trigger numerous other diseases throughout one’s lifetime.

  • Lo Dun

    This is the most nonsensical comment I’ve ever read on health. The first claim that the definition of obesity by nature will inevitably create junk statistics is absolutely false. Yes, obesity is defined by a percentile of the population that meets certain requirements (BMI and/or other measures). That does not mean that some people will always fall under the category of obese. IF nobody meets the requirements, then no one will be considered obese. It’s just simple math. It seems like Norman failed basic math in high school, another problem this country faces. The second claim: our life spans are getting longer. The report does not counter that our CURRENT life spans are increasing. It only says that the children of today will have lower life span. Since the children aren’t dead yet, it is not included in our current measure of our current life span. The third claim: people who watch the most tv also happen to be the most active. I have read that report before and could scarcely believe my eyes. It is true; however, the report did not say that there is a cause and effect relationship between watching tv and being physically active. The fourth claim: Shape Up Somerville was a failure. Norman makes this claim with absolutely no studies to back it up. The last claim: Norman seems to imply that wanting children to grow and not wanting them to gain weight is contradictory. Are you serious? I think this person should go back to grade school. Again, obesity is measured by the percentage of fat in the body; therefore, the report is not talking about weight in the simplest sense; it is talking about fat. Norman seems to suggest that the obesity problem in the U.S. will solve itself, that there is no need for alarm about the problem, and that any kind of intrusion into our children’s eating habits will inevitably fail. Come on, get real. That is like saying that by sitting in front of my tv all day my fat body will naturally shed the pounds. Nice application of laissez-faire economics to health, Norman.

  • Mark

    I found your report on obesity severely lacking. Although your report included an interview with an endocrinologist no mention was made of endocrine disruptors and their direct link to obesity. I know the petrochemical industry wields great power but your reporters really need to step up to the plate and report on endocrine disruptors and their link to practically every leading health problem in the States and the world. How about starting at the Nation Environmental and Health Sciences for a start

  • Peggy

    On another note…environment affects the health of people of ALL ages in communities. A project called “Environmental and Policy Change for Healthy Aging” provides insight on why this is important and how people in communities can take action to make their environments ‘aging-friendly’ –

  • vanillastick

    Chocolates have become one of the most popular confectioneries ever made and sold. Chocolate lovers, young and old, rich and poor, have found themselves being hooked with a confessing indulgence for it. Despite of the popularity chocolates have achieved, there are still questions and arguments that are being raised about its influence on the human health.

  • Ed

    Sugar, fat, and salt are as addictive as tobacco (nicotine) once was. Read THE END OF OVEREATING by David Kessler.