Child obesity: Families 'in denial' over dangers of overweight …

Families in denial over dangers of child obesity
Families ‘need to recognise that obese children are in trouble’ (Picture: PA)

Obese children are having their chances of fighting the flab scuppered by relatives in denial, a report reveals.

Overweight youngsters face serious health problems in later life and need family members to recognise they are in trouble, the study states.

And with about 30 per cent of two to 15-year-olds in England classified as overweight or obese, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is calling for urgent action. ‘Efforts to manage a child or young person’s weight are not always supported, and are sometimes undermined, by members of the wider family,’ the Nice report says.

‘A lack of recognition or denial that the child is overweight can hinder uptake and adherence to a lifestyle weight management programme.’ Children with at least one obese parent are more likely to follow suit themselves, the Nice report added.

Meanwhile, 79 per cent of overweight early teens are likely to be so as adults, raising the risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Although critical of families who refuse to admit their children have a problem, Nice said local authorities should step in to help battle the bulge. Prof Mike Kelly said: ‘Parents should not have to face the challenge of obesity on their own.

We are recommending family-based lifestyle programmes are provided which give tailored advice.’

However, Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said councils have been handed a ‘poisoned chalice’ of dealing with it without proper funding.

Safe foods – Lets take on childhood obesity | Grovelands Childcare

Parents are being urged to make practical changes to everyday lifestyle habits such as portion sizes, drinks and screen time to make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of children and combat the island’s high levels of childhood overweight and obesity. That was the message from safefood with the launch today of a new public health campaign to help parents take on childhood obesity. The campaign will feature on television, radio, poster and point of sale advertising and includes a free booklet for parents that will be available nationwide in crèches, health centres, GP surgeries, and from public health nurses and local libraries.

Launching the campaign, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly TD said: “Obesity presents a real clinical, social and financial challenge which will have a detrimental legacy lasting decades and which will undoubtedly lead Ireland to an unhealthy and extremely costly, if not unaffordable, future if action is not taken now. I want to encourage everybody to help create generations of healthy children who can enjoy their lives to the full and reach their full potential as they develop into adults by making healthier food choices, by being more active and taking the first steps towards reducing overweight and obesity.”

Speaking at the campaign launch, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald TD said “Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in Europe and Ireland is one of the countries worst affected. The Growing Up in Ireland survey, 2011 which is funded by my Department found that 1 in 4 children as young as 3 years of age are overweight or obese. I particularly welcome this new campaign as it seeks to help parents with very practical tips and ideas for actions they can take. We know from research that tackling obesity in childhood requires a family-centred approach, that is part of a wide ranging multi-agency set of initiatives.

The safefood campaign emphasises the importance of taking on practical changes for the whole family which are sustainable for the long term. Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said: “We have based our campaign on strong feedback from parents that they wanted a solutions-based approach. For this phase we’re focusing on reducing portion sizes for children, replacing sugary drinks with water and being realistic about foods that ‘should be’ treat foods. While parents may be somewhat aware of the sugar levels in fizzy drinks, they may not be as aware of the sugar content in juice drinks and cordials, and research tells us they are regularly given to children at mealtimes. The sugar content of these drinks varies enormously and parents need to consider replacing these drinks with water instead”, added Dr. Foley-Nolan.

The three year, all island campaign by safefood in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland Framework in the Republic of Ireland and the ‘Fitter Futures for All’ Implementation Plan in Northern Ireland also reminds parents about the negative health impacts of excess weight in childhood and how this can impact on a child’s quality of life.

Dr Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE said “Parents want what is best for their children, however tackling overweight and obesity is a sensitive and difficult task. A fundamental goal of Healthy Ireland is supporting people to enjoy a healthy and active life. This campaign helps make this a reality by motivating and supporting parents to make healthier choices for their children, and by raising awareness and knowledge among health professionals.

Chair of the safefood Advisory Board, Ms Lynn Ní Bhaoighealláin said “We all want children to have a bright future and we get them into all sorts of healthy habits, like brushing their teeth or crossing the road safely. This campaign is about supporting parents in making small changes in their everyday family lives.” At present, approximately 1 in 4 primary¹ school children are overweight or obese. The prevalence of excess weight is also beginning earlier in childhood², with currently 6% of 3 year olds being obese. Speaking at the campaign launch, Consultant Paediatrician and Clinical Lead for the W82GO Healthy Lifestyles programme at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, Dr Sinead Murphy said “With a quarter of children overweight or obese, we need to tackle the issue of childhood obesity head on or our next generation will be beset with significant health problems later in life. Evidence shows that once obesity is established, it is both difficult to reverse and can track into adulthood”. “Sadly, children who are overweight are at serious risk of becoming adults who are obese. This increases the risk manifold of developing serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancers and shortened life-expectancy”, she continued.

Welcoming this initiative by safefood, Dr Darach O’Ciardha, ICGP Spokesperson said “Obesity is one of the conditions where prevention is certainly better than cure. Any move to educate parents about the need to monitor and prevent bad dietary habits which will last a lifetime, from developing is welcome. This initiative is a first step in tackling the ticking time bomb that is rising obesity levels particularly amongst the young.”

The safefood campaign will also be supported on the safefood website and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. To find out more about the campaign including how-to videos from health experts and practical advice and guides for parents, visit:  – See more at:

Obesity grips Australia: research shows 40% of adults are …

The obesity crisis in Australia is far worse than experts thought, with new evidence showing 40% of adults are dangerously fat.

The new figures are based on the waist circumferences of 11,000 people who were tracked for 12 years in the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute’s AusDiab study.

Previous estimates using body mass index were 25%.

“The results surprised us,” associate professor Anna Peeters, president of the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society, said.

When measured around the waist, a man should not be more than 102cm and a woman 88cm, said Peeters, who will present the findings at the society’s scientific meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.

She is pleased about growing government momentum against obesity, but says parents need more support.

“It is important to intervene early in life. We need good programmes for parents from before their children are born.”

A lot could be learnt from the US, which had decreased childhood obesity.

A minority of Australian schools adhered to dietary guidelines, she said, and workplaces should revise their catering and what was allowed in their vending machines.

Obesity was a condition of an inactive, affluent society that consumed in excess, said Peeters, who is head of obesity and population health at Baker IDI.

However, people of lower education and income living in rural areas were most at risk because energy-dense, nutrient-poor food was relatively cheap.

“People don’t need to be thinking too much about weight loss when they are a little overweight, but they do need to be thinking about preventing weight gain,” she said.

“If you are a little overweight at 30, you are likely to be quite overweight by 50.”

One way to avoid children growing up to be obese was to limit sugar intake, said associate professor Tim Gill, of the University of Sydney, who will chair a session at the conference.

“We are burning so few calories that every calorie we eat needs to come from nutritious food,” he said.

Active children should be allowed two small treats a day at most, he said.

The biggest problem was sugary drinks, which should be limited to one glass a week.

“People are not aware how much sugar they are eating. A can of soft drink has eight to ten spoons of sugar, but children and teenagers typically drink double that in a serve. Foods that contain a lot of added sugar contribute little nutrition, but a lot of calories,” he said.

Obesity rate falls in 19 states for low-income preschoolers | MSNBC

How heavy can one country get? Until recently, the sky seemed the limit. If recent trends continued, government researchers warned in 2008, some 86% of U.S. adults would be overweight or obese by 2030, and a third of our kids would be fully obese by the time they turned 20.

But the fever may finally be breaking. A wisp of good news came from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which announced Tuesday that obesity rates have recently declined among low-income children in 19 states and territories.  “While the changes are small,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in announcing the new findings, “for the first time in a generation they are going in the right direction.”

The new study isn’t definitive, but it suggests that conditions are improving even for the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable children.

The CDC researchers reviewed height-and-weight records for 12 million preschoolers who participated in WIC and other nutrition-assistance programs. Their analysis covered 43 states and territories, and it yielded good news for nearly all of them. Obesity rates either fell or held steady in 40 of the 43 jurisdictions after rising steadily in recent decades. Only three states—Colorado, Pennsylvania and Tennessee—saw upward trends from 2008 to 2011, and those increases were all minor.

Nationally, about 13% of preschoolers are overweight or obese, but the risk is still significantly higher among kids who are poor enough to qualify for nutrition assistance. In California, for example, 16.8% of the enrollees were obese in 2011, despite a significant three-year decline (the 2008 figure was 17.3%). New Jersey and Massachusetts still hover at similar levels (16.6% and 16.4% respectively), despite similar reductions in recent years.

Puerto Rico’s low-income kids had the highest obesity rate of any state or territory (17.9% in 2011), but the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands saw the steepest three-year decline (from 13.6% to 11%).

Child obesity progress (CDC 08-13 map)

What accounts for all these encouraging trends? The study didn’t identify causes, but health authorities believe that public policy and public awareness have both helped. “Many of the states in which we’re seeing declines have taken action to incorporate healthy eating and active living into children’s lives,” says Janet L. Collins, director of the CDC’s obesity division.

Specifically, the CDC points to growing community efforts to make nutritious food affordable and accessible and ensure that all kids have safe places to play. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Child Care initiative has probably helped too, with 10,000 child care programs now embracing its prevention strategies.

“I think the main reason [rates are falling] is that people are rallying together as stakeholders in this battle,” Dr. Lindy Christine Fenlason of Vanderbilt University told NBC News Tuesday morning. “We’re talking about teachers and parents and caregivers, those in the media, those in government, and those in the medical profession. Everyone has come around to support people in making changes to have a healthy weight.”

That’s not to say the epidemic is anywhere near over. Obesity still affects 12.5 million children and teens in this country, and the potential consequences are devastating, ranging from arthritis and sleep apnea to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several cancers. But the latest findings show that progress really is possible.

Why schools shouldn't report obesity

Most of us know schools as institutions of learning, usually associated with “the three Rs,” but now schools in 19 states are reporting progress on another subject: “BMI” — body mass index.

These schools are measuring the heights and weights of students to determine BMI, a measure of weight based on height, then sending home letters to inform parents of their children’s BMI status. As a pediatric nutritionist, I am not pleased.

Child obesity is at near epidemic proportions, with nearly one in three children overweight or obese. Obesity is a gateway disease to many chronic health problems, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and joint problems.

I don’t want to see kids struggle with obesity or become obese. Not only for those reasons but also because it adds to their physical discomfort. Most importantly, I don’t want children saddled with chronic health problems that they should not encounter for decades and that might be prevented altogether.

What? A specialist in child nutrition who doesn’t want parents to be aware of their children’s abnormal weight? No, I didn’t say that.

I spend a good portion of my clinical time counseling motivated parents (and often unmotivated parents, but that’s for another blog post) about making positive changes to normalize their children’s weight. The key word here is “school.”

Schools these days seem to be tasked with doing just about everything related to raising kids: feeding them breakfast and lunch, teaching them (not just general knowledge, but good habits, manners, social skills, etc.), helping them with homework after school and, often, administering medication.

So what’s the problem with these BMI letters? Several things:

  • Parents should be taking their children for physical exams at least annually. The BMI is part of a standard pediatric physical, so in all likelihood, this information is known to the children’s pediatricians. Let’s hope that better access to affordable insurance will make this even easier for parents to do. However, while such access may get children to see a pediatrician, it won’t solve the issue of childhood obesity. Read on.
  • Parents of under- or overweight children will likely need some sessions with a registered dietitian skilled in working with kids and parents. Few health plans currently cover weight management. If they do, it is often for fewer hours or visits than are needed to make permanent dietary and lifestyle changes. The schools are not referring parents to helpful resources or making help available—just telling parents that they need to get some help. That’s not the same.
  • This is a perfect trigger for bullying. The kids know they’re being screened and they also know who the fat kids are. (Even at that age, the eyeballs are a keen assessment tool.) You can almost hear the taunts directed at the heavier kids once parents start receiving the letters. This just draws more attention to the issue. Bad idea.

I heartily applaud the intent of this initiative by the schools (as long as the intent is truly to help children, and not just the work of some politician or school board wanting to score points with constituents). But schools should get out of this business and get back to what they do well: teaching children, feeding them properly during the school day (school meals have improved tremendously) and providing structure.

Schools have an important role in children’s lives; this just isn’t it.

And if politicians or school boards really want to fight obesity, they can make physical education a daily activity for all kids, kindergarten through grade 12.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is director, nutrition clinic, Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He blogs at The Doctor’s Tablet.

Overweight 10-month baby caught up in obesity epidemic sparks …

New figures yesterday showed almost 1,000 children were sent to hospital in the last three years over fears about their weight.

Shocking statistics show a fifth of four-year-olds are now overweight or obese – a problem estimated to cost the NHS £5billion a year for all ages. According to figures obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, 932 children under the age of 15 were admitted to hospital with a ­primary diagnosis of obesity.

They included 283 primary school-age children and 101 under the age of five.

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust said it had admitted the 10-month-old for obesity in the past year, while Mid Staffs NHS Trust said a one-year-old girl was sent to it by a worried doctor.

At Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, there were 172 children diagnosed with obesity, while Great Ormond Street Hospital in London admitted 97 ­children.

Dr Mars Skae, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “I am increasingly being referred children as young as four years of age in our specialist obesity clinics.

“It is not unusual for me to see 18-stone teenagers in our clinic and this is extremely worrying.

“Childhood obesity is the foremost public health threat currently facing the young of this nation.”

Sainsbury fronts up over diabetes

Concerned dad joins drive to fight back against incurable illness

Mark Sainsbury with his diabetic son, Hunter. Photo / Marty Melville

Mark Sainsbury has spent decades in the limelight, but has always kept his twin children out of it … until now.

The popular broadcaster is speaking out about his son’s battle with incurable type-1 diabetes in a bid to raise money and awareness.

The former Close Up host will compere a fundraising dinner on Saturday night for Diabetes Youth Auckland, an organisation he says was a major support when his son, Hunter, was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease at the age of 10.

“It was a huge thing for him, suddenly having to inject himself with insulin several times a day,” Sainsbury said. “You think, you poor little guy, how is he going to deal with this? It seems so unfair.

“But if you spend any time in a children’s ward you learn there are people with bigger issues.”

He said the first sign was Hunter becoming lethargic and drinking a lot of water. “He got more and more gaunt. He was misdiagnosed at first, but on that weekend he looked so emaciated we took him straight to the children’s ward.

“After a blood test, a doctor told us he was diabetic – which we knew nothing about.”

Youth Diabetes case workers were fantastic, he said, guiding the family through what to expect. “There’s the whole thing of being different and having to shoot up. I injected him the first time and after that he did it all himself. He was really amazing. He basically took charge.”

Sainsbury recalls a couple of times when Hunter experienced a frightening drop in sugar levels, including on a disastrous family skiing trip.

“The brand new 4WD broke down and he suddenly started acting really strangely. We thought he was just goofing around but it was actually a massive low and we had to get a glucose shot into his thigh.”

He said the incident also proved an eye opener for his twin sister and her friend. “I think they sometimes thought we were easier on him, and suddenly they saw the fitting and stuff and it was real to them. Not just a sympathy card, but very dangerous and frightening. It made everyone realise just how serious it was.”

Of all people with diabetes, it is estimated about 10 per cent have type 1, which most often occurs in childhood but can occur at any age. Early symptoms include thirst, passing more urine, weight loss, being very tired and mood changes.

Sainsbury says Hunter, who recently returned to Wellington after time in the Northern Territory with his sister, gets an eye test every year and keeps a close watch on his circulation.

Sainsbury insists children with type-1 diabetes can live a regular life but stops short at describing it as normal – and says as a parent the concern is always there.

“Even when they leave home you can’t help but worry about what will happen if they don’t eat, and what if they have a low,” he said. “But at the end of the day they have to manage it themselves. You can’t sit and watch them 24 hours.”

Sir Bob Jones will be the guest speaker at Saturday’s fundraising dinner. The proceeds will support local children and teens with type-1 diabetes.

Herald on Sunday

By Amanda Snow Email Amanda

Obesity in children: What is the responsibility of doctors?

Lying in a hospital bed, my seriously obese patient could barely see her swollen and odorous right foot over her abdominal fat. The foot was soon to be amputated, the result of an untreatable infection exacerbated by diabetes and kidney failure, which developed in part because of obesity.Her two children, ages 6 and 12, hovered from the hospital bed to the couch. In between, the bedside table was strewn with empty fast-food bags, pastry crumbs and large soda cups.

Like their mother, the children were exceedingly overweight.The mother was in her 30s; I had all but given up hope for her long-term survival. And as I watched her children, I feared for their health.

Childhood obesity is a recent disease. During medical school in the late 1980s, I do not recall a single lecture or patient case presentation on the subject. But much has changed; in just the past two decades, obesity among children has more than doubled, from 7 percent to 18 percent, and among adolescents it has more than tripled, from 5 percent to 18 percent. These children are more likely to have pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Certainly parents have responsibility here. But I often wonder: What is the responsibility of the medical establishment?

Three months ago, the American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease. We doctors are now struggling to figure out our role in treating this newly declared illness — and how to approach children and their parents about healthy eating and exercise habits that will last a lifetime.

When I spoke about this with a pediatrician in my community near Memphis, she sounded discouraged. In a typical case of an overweight teenager, she said, “I show the mother the growth curve and point out that the child is way off the charts. Then I ask, ‘Have you thought about controlling the weight?’

“First there is denial,” she said. “And often there is the blame game — it’s the grandma or the dad” who overindulges the child. This isn’t a problem that is easily solved in a doctor’s office, she said.

One tool in her limited kit is something called “5210 Every Day.” Adapted from a program that originated in Maine and is spreading nationwide, 5210 promotes four “numbers to live by”: Kids should eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day; spend 2 hours or less on recreational screen time; get 1 hour or more of physical activity; and consume 0 sugary drinks.

She explains the program to her patients and sends them home with a 5210 brochure.

brochure? “How much can I do in 15 minutes?” the pediatrician said. That’s how long she has to tend to the problem that prompted the visit, plus provide other counseling: vaccinations, drinking, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, bicycle helmets, and yes, diet and exercise. And it may be another year before she sees the youngster again.

I understand the pediatrician’s quandary. For one thing, how do you tell a mother to send her children outside to play if their street has boarded-up windows and drug dealers on the corner? How hard is it for her to buy and prepare fresh foods? In other situations, where families are fortunate enough to live in a safe neighborhood and have plenty of fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator, we see some parents who are too worried about their children’s self-esteem to talk to them about their weight.

The medical community is taking some concrete steps: For example, childhood-obesity clinics are popping up at academic centers nationwide. The head of pediatrics at one such center tells me a team approach is used to help young patients manage diabetes and hypertension — a nutritionist, a physical therapist, a social worker, a psychologist and pediatric specialists. But he acknowledges that few private pediatrics offices have all these resources. A broader problem is getting Medicaid and private insurers to reimburse doctors for obesity counseling.I fear that we will not come close to solving this problem anytime soon.

Here in Memphis — named the fattest big city in the United States in a 2011 Gallup study – I see a root cause of childhood obesity every time I make the drive to one of my hospitals: Take a left turn at the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and the Burger King, just after the McDonald’s and before the Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut — which are all on the same road as a famous local fried chicken place with a billboard advertising a $5 meal. Our children are growing up among land mines disguised as play areas.

These are some ironies of our society and health system: We allow our children to be poisoned by excessive high-sugar, high-fat foods and then we treat them for the diseases that are caused in part by such foods. We spare no expense to save a baby’s life, yet we’re not willing to reimburse doctors for nutritional and social counseling if that baby grows into an obese child.The U.S. health-care system is designed to function best when doctors are treating acute illnesses, such as a heart attack or pneumonia. Slowly it is being pushed to provide better treatment for chronic illnesses such as diabetes. But it still misses the mark on prioritizing and promoting preventive and lifestyle changes.

For a moment I imagine a health-care system in which reimbursement is not based entirely on the sickness of the patient but is partly based on what experts call “population health.” Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical firms and home health agencies would be paid not only for treating individuals’ illnesses but for demonstrating that they had advanced and maintained the health and wellness of the community.

It would be a gigantic shift. Still, I am hopeful: Much is happening to turn the tide. First lady Michelle Obama is leading the “Let’s Move” campaign, which is placing awareness of childhood obesity on the public agenda. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) is trying to limit the size of sugary drinks. And the 5210 campaign and similar programs are spreading to more and more cities.

Here in Tennessee, a community campaign supported by Healthy Memphis Common Table – a regional health collaborative that I helped found a decade ago — appears to have had some encouraging results. The campaign works with local farmers markets, schools and beverage companies; one of its efforts led to junk food being banned from the vending machines in elementary schools, and another turns vacant lots into thriving gardens. The preliminary results of a study by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine indicate that the rate of obesity among adults here has dropped below the state average, whereas more thank a decade ago the rate was 5 percent above the state average.

We doctors must look upstream to the causes of obesity and get creative about our role.

As I stood in my patient’s room, where the odor of rotting flesh mixed with the aroma of leftover French fries, I considered her life-threatening infection, preceded by kidney failure and diabetes, which were preceded in turn by a massive weight gain that did not have to happen. I realized she would not live as long as her mother had, and I recalled studies that have predicted that for the first time in U.S. history, children have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, largely because of obesity-related conditions.

The woman I cared for in that hospital died a year later from complications of diabetes, renal failure, hypertension and obesity. It’s her children who need help now.

Manoj Jain is an infectious disease physician and contributor to the Washington Post, where this article originally appeared, and The Commercial Appeal.  He can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Manoj Jain.

Facebook interests could help predict track and map obesity | News …

Study correlates data on Facebook users’ interests with obesity rates in cities and towns nationally and in New York City neighborhoods

April 24, 2013

Boston, Mass.—The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area’s obesity rate. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. Such are the conclusions of a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.

Together, the conclusions suggest that knowledge of people’s online interests within geographic areas may help public health researchers predict, track and map obesity rates down to the neighborhood level, while offering an opportunity to design geotargeted online interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates.

The study team, led by Rumi Chunara, PhD, and John Brownstein, PhD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Informatics Program (CHIP), published their findings on April 24 in PLOS ONE.

The amount of data available from social networks like Facebook makes it possible to efficiently carry out research in cohorts of a size that has until now been impractical. It also allows for deeper research into the impact of the societal environment on conditions like obesity, research that can be challenging because of cost, difficulties in gathering sufficient sample sizes and the slow pace of data analysis and reporting using traditional reporting and surveillance systems.

“Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level,” according to Brownstein, who runs the Computational Epidemiology Group within CHIP. “The tight correlation between Facebook users’ interests and obesity data suggest that this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behavior change, and assess the success of those campaigns.”

To connect the dots between Facebook interests and obesity, Chunara, Brownstein and their colleagues obtained aggregated Facebook user interest data—what users post to their timeline, “like” and share with others on Facebook—from users nationally and just within New York City. They then compared the percentages of users interested in healthy activities or television with data from two telephone-based health surveys: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System-Selected Metropolitan/Micropolitan Area Risk Trends (BRFSS-SMART), and New York City’s EpiQuery Community Health Survey (CHS). Both surveys record geotagged data on body mass index, a reliable measure of obesity.

The comparison revealed close geographic relationships between Facebook interests and obesity rates. For instance, the BRFSS-SMART obesity rates were 12 percent lower in the location in the United States where the highest percentage of Facebook users expressing activity-related interests (Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) compared that in the location with the lowest percentage (Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.). Similarly, the obesity rate in the location with the highest percentage of users with television-related interests nationally (Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.) was 3.9 percent higher than the location with the lowest percentage (Eugene-Springfield, Ore.).

The same correlation was reflected in the New York City neighborhood data as well, showing that the approach can scale from national- to local-level data. The CHS-reported obesity rate on Coney Island, which had the highest percentage of activity-related interests in the city, was 7.2 percent lower than Southwest Queens, the neighborhood with the lowest percentage. At the same time, the obesity rate in Northeast Bronx, the neighborhood with the highest percentage of television-related interests, was 27.5 percent higher than that in the neighborhood with the lowest percentage (Greenpoint). 


Relating proportion of activity-related “likes”
on Facebook with obesity rates


Region with lowest percentage

Region with highest percentage

? obesity rate between lowest and highest


Kansas City, Mo.-Kan. (1.3%)

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (25.4%)



Southwest Queens (7.6%)

Coney Island




Relating proportion of television-related “likes”
on Facebook with obesity rates


Region with lowest percentage

Region with highest percentage

? obesity rate between lowest and highest


Eugene-Springfield, Ore. (50.3%)

Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. (76%)



Greenpoint (64%)

Northeast Bronx (70.6%)


 “The data show that in places where Facebook users have more activity-related interests, there is a lower prevalence of obesity and overweight,” said Chunara, an instructor in Brownstein’s group. “They reveal how social media data can augment public health surveillance by giving public health researchers access to population-level information that they can’t otherwise get.”

The study also bolsters the case for using social media as a means of delivering targeted interventions aimed at reducing rates of obesity and other chronic diseases, as applicable.

The study was supported by the National Library of Medicine (grants G08LM009776, and R01LM010812) and

Keri Stedman

Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including nine members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 11 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s today is a 395-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Boston Children’s also is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more information about research and clinical innovation at Boston Children’s, visit:

Thousands Get Ready To Take Steps To Find A Cure For Diabetes

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It affects children and adults alike. Nearly 26 million Americans are fighting diabetes. That’s outpacing cancer, AIDS and heart disease.

But next weekend (Oct. 5), thousands in Baltimore will take steps to find a cure.

Mary Bubala has more.

It’s called Step Out: The Walk to Stop Diabetes. The event will bring thousands to Rash Field at the Inner Harbor to raise money to find a cure.


Ashleigh Gerber, 10, will be there with her parents. She has Type 1 diabetes and is proud to be this year’s youth ambassador.

“I like getting the word out to people and it’s just fun speaking at different events,” said Gerber.

“We’re so proud of her. She’s taking it on headstrong and showing people even though she has diabetes you can do whatever you want,” said Renee and Michael Gerber, Ashleigh’s parents.

Ashleigh was diagnosed three years ago. There have been ups and downs, but she remains really active and has adjusted well to her diagnosis. She uses a small insulin pump called an OmniPod to regulate her condition.

It’s breakthroughs like this that inspire so many people to walk and raise money. Some others are doing it to raise awareness about the other type of diabetes — Type 2.

If the current trends continue, one in three children born in Maryland will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

“Over 400 thousand Marylanders are impacted, so it’s a big disease, an epidemic. So we are bringing awareness to the community,” said Kerry Graves, ADA Maryland. “We are also raising money for research programs and advocacy.”

To learn more about Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes, click here.