Katy Steinmetz's commentary (Dec. 4) on Columbia's recently announced Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities award to fight child obesity was inaccurate in its basic premise.
Ms. Steinmetz is correct in saying child obesity is no laughing matter, but her characterization of the project, "to organize educational events that encourage children to eat more healthfully," is wrong. The PedNet Coalition and our partners have received many grants over recent years to address child obesity through education and encouragement programs. The Walking School Bus, bicycle education and media literacy classes are just some of the outcomes of these efforts, and they are all making a difference at the local and national level.
However, the national Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program and Columbia's local Healthy Environment Policy Initiative are not about behavior change. Instead, they will address the much more challenging problem of institutionalized barriers to healthy living. Public policies, entrenched systems of transportation planning, food distribution and cultural/social norms, all conspire to create an environment in which thousands of Columbia kids, especially those living in lower-income neighborhoods, do not have access to healthy foods or safe places to be active. In this project, the PedNet Coalition, in partnership with the city of Columbia, MU, Columbia Public Schools and others, will evaluate these barriers, identify public policy approaches to reduce or eliminate them, educate policymakers and the public about why these changes are important for our community and then seek to implement them.
The project's goal will be to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy and automatic choice — ironically, quite similar to the idea of sneakily depriving kids of junk food as put forward by Ms. Steinmetz. At any rate, we promise there will be no "vegetable-themed parades"