Mayor Allen Joines announced plans to develop a new program aimed at reversing the growing problem of childhood obesity in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. In Forsyth County in 2009, 32 percent of all children ages 2 to 18 were overweight or obese based on their body mass index, according to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics. In addition, the center found that 37 to 44 percent of students in the first, fourth, seventh and ninth grades were overweight or obese.
The implications of these disturbing statistics are many. Today the incidences of juvenile onset diabetes, the number of young people with blood pressure problems and other health issues are increasing. In the future, the United Health Foundation has estimated that the cost of health care for obesity related medical problems will skyrocket from $147 billion annually to $344 billion annually by 2018. The most troubling fact is that the New England Journal of Medicine published a report stating, “…for the first time in the history of the United States, this generation of children could live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents.”
Joines said, “It is incumbent on us to help educate these young people on how to develop healthy life styles for their own personal health as well as to lessen the impact on society of these potential increases in health care costs.” The program is also a part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Campaign for Healthy Cities.
A task group made up of the mayor’s staff and representatives of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, The Gateway YWCA, the Winston-Salem chapter of The Links Incorporated, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Forsyth County, nutritionists, and the Out of Our Minds Animation Studio developed a concept for a comprehensive education initiative.
Utilizing the work of this group, funding was obtained from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust ($82,500) Cook Medical ($5,000) and the Winston Salem Rotary Foundation($1,000). “I am very grateful to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Cook Medical, and the Rotary Foundation for their financial support of this very important effort to help our children,” Joines said.
There are two aspects of the problem that need to be addressed. First, young people are living more sedentary lifestyles and are not engaging in activities that will burn calories and strengthen their bodies. Secondly, they are bombarded with advertising from fast food companies that promote unhealthy food choices. This advertising is done through games, animation and web-based sites that the children enjoy participating in. A number of efforts have been made to educate parents and children about better food choices and the advantages of exercise, but they have had limited success due in part to the sterile nature of the message.
The program that will be developed will utilize animation and an interactive website to engage young people in a media that they utilize daily. The website will be a kid-friendly site that will educate kids ages 7 to 10 about nutrition. The site will involve games, and will allow the young people to learn, create and plan as well to get involved with the story development.
In addition to creating the web page, the Out of Our Minds Studio will create an original animation that will speak to the children in a way they can relate to. Out of Our Minds Studio is an award-winning full-service animation firm in Winston-Salem that has been called the Pixar of the independent film world. The firm has produced a number of short films and recently completed a full-length feature film called “The Magistical.” John Cernak, executive creative director, said, “The experience and accomplishments of our studio have led us to this purpose. The quality of life of our children is soon to reach a tipping point. I made a promise to my grandsons that I plan to keep. Our studio will help.”
The YWCA, The Links, The WS/FC Schools and others will develop a complementary education and information program targeted to students in the WS/FC School system.
School Superintendent Don Martin stated, “We are pleased to once again partner with the mayor to provide a better quality of life for our children and families. Our program specialist for physical education and health, Nancy Sutton, will continue to work with the team to ensure our support and implementation of this educational health initiative for our children.”
The implementation of the project is targeted for January of 2012.