Obesity is a growing problem across much of the Western world, especially in the USA where it is estimated that about 35.7% of the adult population is obese. And the odds are not better for children, 17% of whom are obese. Obesity prevalence has tripled in one generation, and without proper intervention, things are likely to get out of hand.
In most cases, obesity often affects the minorities a lot more significantly, with data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that non-Hispanic blacks had the highest prevalence of adult obesity, followed by Mexican Americans and Hispanics. Whites had the lowest prevalence of obesity. In childhood obesity, CDC data showed that non-Hispanic black girls and Hispanic boys were more likely to be obese than children of the same gender from other races.
The reason for this is usually a lack of nutritional knowledge, exacerbated by financial constraints.
For these reasons, a team from the University of Minnesota’s Food Science and Nutrition embarked on a teaching session to see whether any improvement in knowledge would change consumption habits.
The team took to educating 118 lower income women, who were predominantly African American, Indigenous American with a few whites. There were 3 educational sessions for these women, each dealing with a different topic. The classes were both experiential and holistic.
In the first class, the women were taught the essentials of nutrition, starting with what nutrients are. They were also taught on budgeting and shopping for food. The women were then taken through practical cooking sessions, through which they learned the best cooking methods that preserved the greatest amount of nutrients.
The focus of the third class was about ensuring food security through simple interventions, such as home gardening.
Fast foods Dropped
The researchers pointed out that after attending these 3 classes, these women had made significant changes in food consumption patterns. For instance, they read product labels more often, suggesting an increased awareness about checking their food consumption habits. They had also stopped the consumption of fast foods, and increased vegetable intake.
According to tests conducted by the researchers afterwards, the women had made 9 behavioral improvements, and also improved in their measures of knowledge.
While it is clear that in the short run these classes have brought about changes in dietary habits, what is not clear to the researchers is whether or not these changes will last in the long run. If so, then it will surely offer a simple and cost effective way of turning the tide against obesity in the general population.
The importance of nutrition education in stymieing an increase in the prevalence of obesity was recently documented by a University of Columbia research team in January this year. Their research focused on the effects of the 2009 changes for people in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children. The changes involved the introduction of newer and healthier alternatives such as whole grains, fruits, low fat milk, and the reduction of fruit juices. This was also coupled with greater nutritional educational and an encouragement towards consumption of the healthier alternatives.
In New York, where these changes first introduced, there was a 6% drop in childhood obesity amongst 1 year olds. Among 2-4 year olds, obesity dropped by 3%. These drops were concomitant with an increase in the consumption of low fat milk and steady increases in the consumption of fruits. Furthermore, because of the nutritional advice the women were receiving, the number of breastfeeding women increased by 7%.
Research going back to 2010 also shows a direct link between the increased consumption of healthier foods and proper nutrition education.
If only three classes are required to inspire a change in dietary habits, I believe that current the obesity prevalence can be reversed.