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COBA Conference Steers Forward in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Published: 4/2/15
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By Maxwell Votey, Leda Espinoza, and Melissa An

Twitter Summary: #COBASF 2015: Promising results from @Kurbo Health + lessons on food insecurity

We recently attended the two-day Childhood Obesity Bay Area (COBA) Conference in our hometown of San Francisco. Over 200 attendees gathered to learn about the contributing factors and potential solutions to the childhood obesity epidemic. The conference attracted a wide variety of people (e.g. physicians, nurses, public health experts, school administrators, students), which was matched by a diverse range of discussions from food insecurity to medical ecology to the soda tax.

Our Pearls:

  1. An exciting workshop-style breakout session featured a first-of-its-kind app by Kurbo Health that utilizes a simple traffic light system to help kids lead healthier lives. Ms. Thea Runyan and Ms. Awara Mendy of Kurbo Health explained that the lack of accessible diet and exercise technology geared specifically towards children is what motivated their team (led by Joanna Strober, author of "Getting to 50/50") to start the program. This app, meant for youth 8-18 years old, uses a simple “red light, yellow light, and green light” system to help children learn about nutrition and make smart food choices. It also includes food and exercise tracking tools, personalized texts and notifications, games, and weekly challenges. In addition to the app, Kurbo Health offers a 12-week program that includes one-on-one support from health coaches and engages the entire family. Since its launch in August 2014, approximately 200 families have participated in the program. Notably, Ms. Runyan and Ms. Mendy shared that 90% of the children who started the program finished it, and 88% of children achieved their target weight loss goals. Of course, the real question is whether or not children in this program will continue to keep the weight off even after the program is over – this objective has consistently been a major obstacle with obesity prevention programs. The app is free on the App Store; the program costs $40-$75 per month (depending on the chosen plan: either a one month plan at $75/month, a three month plan at $60/month, or a six month plan at $40/month) to access the one-on-one support coaches. Ms. Runyan noted that Kurbo Health is currently seeking ways to lower its price point and expand access for lower-income families.

  2. How is food insecurity related to type 2 diabetes and obesity? UCSF’s Dr. Hilary Seligman gave a compelling talk describing the ways in which widespread food insecurity and hunger are closely tied with the obesity epidemic. Dr. Seligman emphasized the startling degree of food insecurity (defined as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritional foods) in the US, citing that one in seven American households and one in five American children live in a state of food insecurity. Notably, she highlighted that many food insecure Americans are also overweight or obese, making it a difficult phenomenon to spot. Dr. Seligman explained that such obesity stems from what is termed “mild food insecurity,” which occurs in 9% of American households. This population is able to satisfy hunger, but does so by consuming calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods (e.g., chips, candy, soda). This environment has risks for both adults and children; Dr. Seligman even believes that such environments could affect future generations, since a mother in an unhealthy food environment can pass down increased likelihood for obesity and diabetes to her newborn child. You can watch a full lecture by Dr. Seligman on this topic titled "Obesity and America's Hidden Hunger Epidemic" here.

For more information on diet, exercise, and health, please visit our resource page here.

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