New Pilot Program Will Target Childhood Obesity in Newark
Program will be featured at all 15 Family Success Centers
The hard-hitting facts of childhood obesity also hit close to home: A staggering 45 percent of children ages three to five are overweight or obese in Newark, a sobering statistic that is more than twice the national rate.
But in Brick City, the problem, part of a national epidemic, is not going unnoticed.
Mayor Cory Booker's Let's Move! Newark campaign, Newark Now and Nestle have teamed up to bring an educational pilot program to New Jersey's largest city that will promote healthier lifestyles starting in early childhood.
"We know food needs to be fun ... so we want to do it in a way that's sustainable," said Marilyn Knox, president and chief executive officer of Nestle Infant Nutrition North America, Friday during the announcement of the new initiative at city hall.
Nestle made a $100,000 donation Friday to help fund the new community initiative, which will be implemented at all 15 of the city's Family Success Centers, one-stop facilities that offer families essential services of all types.
The two-year pilot, the first of its kind in the nation, is a six-course program that will teach parents and families how to make sure their babies are eating nutritious foods with the help of a bilingual nutritionist. Emphasis will be placed on the benefits of breast feeding, physical activity, vegetable consumption and portion control.
Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, who's been a pediatrician for 10 years, said often times doctors like herself are charged with the difficult task of telling parents their "cute, chubby" baby could be, in actuality, at risk of being obese.
"I have seen every day the ever-increasing size of the children that come to my office," said Anyaoku, who is the director of general pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. "The problem is that if you don't guide that ship properly, that cute adorable toddler becomes that 60- to 100-pound three- or four-year-old."
Come spring, parents across the city will begin becoming educated on making smart, healthier choices for their children.
"It (will) give them guidelines early on that empowers them to make better choices for nutrition and physical activity for their little ones," said Anyaoku.
The program will be overseen by the Newark-Nestle Nutrition Advisory Board headed by Newark Now Chief Operation Officer Michael Anne Kyle.
Let's Move! Newark is part of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign that targets childhood obesity. Last fall, freshmen at five city high schools that were part of the Let's Move! Newark Our Power program tracked their physical activity using MyTrak accelerometers. Winners of the competition were announced last month with the help of rapper Fat Joe at Weequahic High School.
"If we get out to every child we have in every neighborhood and begin to influence them teach them, influence them, partner with them," said Booker, "we can change Newark from the ground up."