It isn’t every day that the nation’s top doctor boogies down with a group of elementary school students.
But on Tuesday, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin put on her dancing shoes and did the Cupid Shuffle. Benjamin was at an NAACP event where the civil rights group released its new childhood obesity advocacy guide. The manual is designed to help its local units, communities and grassroots groups combat childhood obesity through environmental and policy changes.
(Note: For those who aren’t up on what the kids are dancing to these days, the Cupid Shuffle
is a popular line dance. Kind of like the Electric Slide, only for the hip hop set.)
Although the shuffle certainly offered some pizzazz for the hour-long press conference, Benjamin also joined a handful of top leaders who highlighted the NAACP’s new manual as an important step in combating childhood obesity in the African-American community. Benjamin said such efforts play an important role in the larger effort to move the nation’s health system from one focused on sickness and disease to one focused on prevention and wellness.
, a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, echoed Benjamin's remarks, explaining that reversing childhood obesity will require changing culture. (Full disclosure: PreventObesity.net is a program of RWJF.)
"We have to change communities, change environments and change public policy," Govea said.
But there are unique challenges facing African Americans when it comes to obesity. Black children are more likely to live in areas with limited or no access to fresh, healthy and affordable food, and they often don’t have opportunities for physical activity. As a result, African Americans are more likely to be obese. Nearly 35 percent of African-American children or overweight or obese, compared to 30.7 percent of white children, according to the NAACP.
“This is a civil rights issue. It’s a human rights issue,” said NAACP President Ben Jealous, who told the tragic story of a 12-year-old boy from an African-American community who died due to complications from obesity.
“Too many of our neighborhoods have to fight to get a grocery store, have to fight to get a park… have to fight to make sure their school has recess or even healthy food,” Jealous added.
Many communities are looking for guidance on steps they can take to reverse obesity, and just don’t know where to start, Jealous said. That’s where the NAACP manual comes in. It identifies best practices folks can take in promoting healthy behavior, and tips for where they should work to change policy at the local, state and federal level.
The NAACP wants people to focus on three specific advocacy areas: Improving the Built Environment, improving Food Environments and working on School-Based Policies.
Improving the Built Environment includes things such as better public transportation, enhanced recreational spaces, better access to school playgrounds outside of school hours and increased walkability and bikeability. Better Food Environments focus on efforts to reduce food deserts and increase access to healthy and affordable food, while School-based Policies includes everything from more nutritious school meals and drinks to increased time for physical activity and recess.
“With active units in every state throughout the United States, we believe we are well equipped to engage community and state leaders in the fight to save this and the next generation,” said Shavon Arline, the NAACP’s director of health programs, who is overseeing the effort.
Plus, it helps if you can make a little time to do the Cupid Shuffle (we note that Arline also hit the dance floor).
“That was fun,” Benjamin joked. “We need to do that more. I like to dance.”