Childhood Obesity: A Few Resources For Reporters

Published on
February 20, 2013

During an interview with Wendy Slusser, M.D., the other day for a piece on the types of immediate health, emotional and learning problems researchers have now discovered are connected with childhood obesity (view it here), I asked for her insight about reporting on the topic.

Slusser is co-founder and medical director of the UCLA Fit for Healthy Weight program, founder and co- director of UCLA's Community Health and Advocacy Pediatric Residency Training Program and also a staff pediatrician at the Venice Family Clinic's Simms/Mann Health and Wellness Center. She has been studying childhood obesity and working with obese patients for 15 years.

Slusser tells me that while childhood obesity is certainly a major threat to kids’ health, the emotional issues surrounding it are at least as important – if not more so. And these issues aren’t covered often in the media. She says kids who show up at the Venice Family Clinic struggling with weight are often dealing with depression or other emotional issues as well. “We have to focus on their emotional health before they can start getting healthier physically,” Slusser says. By focusing on health, not weight, Slusser is able to help kids work on underlying conditions that contribute to or cause their obesity. “Along the way, they will potentially not gain weight the way they would have,” she says, which counts as a huge success in kids who were gaining weight every week.

Slusser takes a hopeful view of the battle against childhood obesity, including indications in the CDC’s Jan. 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that childhood obesity rates in New York City and Los Angeles dropped in recent years. “For me it’s a real pleasure to see how many people are sensitized to it,” she says, adding she’s seen “a real receptivity” among parents of her young patients to learning about the lifestyle changes that will improve their children’s health. Some of the credit, in Slusser’s view, goes to public education campaigns such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program (so I suppose media outlets that have covered the program deserve at least a little pat on the back there).

Slusser also credits federal policy changes – such as those to the national school breakfast and lunch programs – with improving children’s lifestyles. “What these kids are eating is leagues ahead of what it was 10 years ago,” she says.

For journalists looking to stay on top of the latest childhood obesity research, or for expert sources to help with their coverage, Slusser suggests:

Pediatric Obesity, published by the International Association for the Study of Obesity. Requires a subscription, but also publishes many free-access special issues online. They publish articles that go beyond just straight research, which Slusser thinks is helpful for journalists.

Journal of School Health, from the American School Health Association. Also requires a subscription, but publisher Wiley offers an online pressroom with breaking news searchable by a variety of categories, including Medicine & Healthcare, that will connect you with press releases about their latest articles.

Public Health Nutrition, published by the Nutrition Society, focuses on nutritional research with an international perspective. The journal is subscription-only, but does publish press releases about prominent papers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Provisional Section On Obesity,  Check out the executive committee roster (Slusser is listed there), where you’ll find contact information for a host of prominent researchers with an interest in the topic.