Shaping America's Youth (SAY) was founded in 2003 with the intent of engaging families and their communities in the challenge of reversing excess weight in our children. Our first aim was to assess the characteristics of current programs designed to reduce or prevent childhood overweight and obesity. In 2004, we released the first and still, to our knowledge, the only national survey of programs directed at improving nutrition and/or physical activity in children and youth.1
On the basis of information provided by 1100 programs throughout the United States, we identified strengths and weaknesses of well-intentioned efforts being put forth to improve our children's health.2 Primary among the weaknesses was that ongoing programs typically reported that parents and other family members were the greatest barriers to the success of achieving the desired outcomes. Ironically, the vast majority of programs acknowledged that there was no effort to engage the family in the programmatic process related to planning or implementation.
Using these insights, SAY implemented its second aim: to solicit direct input from parents and key elements of the community as to what they perceived as impediments to improving their families' nutrition and physical activity and their ideas on how best to overcome them. This supplemental issue of Pediatrics provides a comprehensive assessment of the town-meeting process we developed and implemented in conjunction with AmericaSpeaks, an internationally recognized organization that specializes in citizen engagement in public-policy issues.3,4 In addition to a detailed summary of the results of citizen input acquired at 5 town meetings held throughout the United States, this monograph offers commentaries and recommendations for implementation of a plan of action focused on grassroots input. As documented by the SAY findings presented here, properly organized and executed town meetings hold the potential to provide reproducible evidence of how individuals perceive this critical health issue and what they perceive as necessary to resolve it.
These data from SAY's town meetings offer compelling support and show the need for many of the actions outlined in the recent White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report to the President.5 It is noteworthy that the citizens who offered the “grassroots” perspective on the barriers and solutions to the childhood obesity crisis that form the basis of this supplemental issue identified the importance of many of the actions that the White House Task Force report highlighted. The importance of this concordance of priorities to improve the nutrition and physical activity of our youth lies in the reality that although experts can articulate what the actions should be, it is individual families and communities that will determine what actually happens.
SAY owes its existence to an extraordinary commitment from a public-private partnership among the Office of the US Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and its founding corporate sponsors: Nike, Campbell Soup Company, and McNeil Nutritionals, a Johnson & Johnson Company. The professional reach of SAY has been significantly enhanced by our partnerships with the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, each of these health professional groups have lent invaluable support, ensuring that SAY's efforts extend to the elements of the health care community that most frequently touch the lives of families and children.
We are grateful for the support of the corporate sponsors who made the national town meeting process possible (Appendix). The Campbell Soup Company, Cadbury Schweppes, ConAgra Foods, McNeil Nutritionals, a Johnson & Johnson Company, Nike, and Academic Network, LLC provided financial support for each of the 5 town-meeting venues. In addition, several corporations provided funding for specific venues: FedEx Corporation for the Memphis, Tennessee, and Dallas, Texas, meetings; GlaxoSmithKline for the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Illinois, and Iowa meetings; Cigna for the Memphis, Dallas, and Philadelphia meetings; and QTG (Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade) for the Chicago meeting. The American Diabetes Association provided administrative and financial support for the Philadelphia, Chicago, and Iowa meetings. The success of the town meetings would not have been possible without the outstanding operating platform that AmericaSpeaks brought to this initiative. The AmericaSpeaks format was based on its extensive experience convening individuals to provide the most important component of a democracy: the voice of its citizens.3,4
In each city, we were fortunate to enlist the support of key organizations that served as the coordinating entities that facilitated participant recruitment, identification of >100 local experts to organize the computer input into “themes,” and the solicitation of civic leaders and provided context unique to each venue (Appendix). In addition, these organizations garnered invaluable support from numerous and diverse local civic organizations, broadly expanding the grassroots commitment that was an essential component to the success of the town meetings. Their recruitment of >800 volunteers who assisted on the meeting days was critical to the efficient operation of each meeting. Among these various responsibilities, our local partners engaged >1400 citizens in the development and execution of the 5 town meetings.
Most importantly, SAY is indebted to the >2500 community members who generously supplied the most vital component of all: their perspective on the weight crisis facing America's youth. These people, who are closest to the problem and most integral to its solution, provided meaningful and realistic information on how families and their communities can improve children's nutrition and physical activity.
The information, analysis, conclusions, and perspectives presented throughout this monograph are based on the analytic results, are the sole responsibility of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the professional, governmental, or corporate sponsors or partners. Although the corporate sponsors provided funding to support the town meetings, they were not involved in the development of the data-analysis methodology or in the content or preparation of the manuscripts comprised in this supplemental issue of Pediatrics.
In summary, we found that most Americans get it—they just want help getting over it!6 They are not seeking one-dimensional approaches or government solutions alone. They want help from effective, community-based partnerships that integrate the health care, education, environment, government, and business sectors in support of their own efforts to make healthier choices and lead healthier lifestyles. We need to listen to and act on what they are saying.
- Accepted August 9, 2010.
- Address correspondence to David A. McCarron, MD, FACP, McCarron Group LLC, 120 NW Ninth Ave, Suite 206, Portland, OR 97209. E-mail:
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The authors have indicated they have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.
- SAY =
- Shaping America's Youth
- 1.↵Shaping America's Youth. Programs & funding. Available at: www.shapingamericasyouth.org/Page.aspx?nid=3. Accessed April 4, 2010
- 2.↵Shaping America's Youth. Summary report September 2004: national survey and registry of programs addressing childhood physical inactivity and excess weight. Available at: http://shapingamericasyouth.org/summaryreportKMD_PDFhr.pdf?cid=101. Accessed April 4, 2010
- 3.↵AmericaSpeaks–Engaging Citizens in Governance. Home page. Available at: http://americaspeaks.org. Accessed April 4, 2010
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- 5.↵White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Report to the President: solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. Available at: www.letsmove.gov/obesitytaskforce.php. Accessed June 8, 2010
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- Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics