Haire-Joshu’s research with teen mothers has shown that they learned obesogenic behaviors from their parents, and they now may be passing those on to their children.
Haire-Joshu is director of the university’s Center for Obesity Prevention and Policy Research and the Center for Diabetes Translation Research, both of which aim to improve the health of underserved populations. Racial and ethnic disparities begin in early childhood, she says. National statistics show that approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2–19 years are obese. Hispanic (21 percent) and non-Hispanic black (24 percent) youth have higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic white youth (14 percent).
These obesity disparities track into adulthood: Non-Hispanic black adults exhibit the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (49.5 percent), compared with American Indian/Alaskan Native (39.4 percent), Hispanics (39.1 percent) and whites (34.3 percent).
Recently, she worked with senior staff of the Department of Health and Human Services in framing policy priorities for the office of First Lady Michelle Obama during development of the Let’s Move campaign to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within a generation.
1. Obesity is intergenerational, but it is preventable. Our work seeks to understand strategies in which young mothers can understand and influence the long-term eating and activity patterns of their children. The last thing we want is to give [teen moms] one more thing to feel bad about, so we teach them reasonable things they can do to improve their child’s food environment, which in turn, improves the child’s eating patterns and intake.
2. We’re in this crisis because we live in a culture that encourages unhealthy eating and sedentary behavior. Our food environment is defined by constant marketing across multiple types of media that promotes the intake of calorically dense food in excess. This, in turn, informs your food environment [the food options that surround you], which can further limit the choices you can make.
3. The best things parents can do for their kids when it comes to healthy eating: Be good role models and provide a food environment that makes healthy choices easy to make.