BU Battles Youth Obesity

Boston youths have strayed from active lifestyles and Boston University wants to do something about it.

kids runningPhoto via Getty Images

Flashlight tag, capture the flag, graveyard, wiffle ball. These are just a few of the games I used to play as a kid with the rest of the neighborhood children. We would stay outside for hours burning off what felt like an endless amount of energy.

Times, it seems, have changed. The trend among today’s youth have transformed from a need for adventure and excitement to a need for entertainment and technology. And the results of this less-than-active lifestyle and a diet that I’m sure focuses more on junk food than on fruit are devastating. Kids are getting bigger every day, and I’m not talking about their height.

Boston University, along with the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and the Boston Centers for Youth and Family (BCYF), have taken note of the widespread epidemic that seems to be plaguing our youth: obesity. And they are doing something about it.

BU will invest more than $1.2 million into a three-part initiative to combat youth obesity. In conjunction with BPHC and BCYF, the university will be renovating the Blackstone Community Center to include gym equipment and training facilities, conducting summer camps where kids can learn sports, and providing open ice time at the Walter Brown Arena on Sundays.

In an article from BU Today, BPHC’s executive director sheds some light on how big of an issue obesity has become in Boston:

“More than 60 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese, with even higher rates for Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan residents, according to Boston Public Health Commission executive director Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88). The statistics are equally dire when it comes to Boston’s youth. Ferrer estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Boston’s school-age children are overweight or obese, with about 22 percent falling into the latter category. People have become less physically active, she says, and do not have a healthy diet.”

It is undeniable that obesity in Boston is a problem. In the 2011 Health of Boston Report from the BPHC, only 27 percent of public high school students reported engaging in regular physical activity and 18 percent said they eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. For adults, 57 percent said they exercise and only 26 percent ate their fruits and veggies.

When did “eat your vegetables” become “what kind of frozen pizza do you want?” When did “no playing outside before you finish your homework” become “no sitting around playing video games before you sit around and do your homework?”

Boston University, along with BPHC and BCYF, should be applauded for their efforts to combat youth obesity. But will their good intentions prove successful?

In a simple answer, no. You can’t expect a child to go to a summer camp for two weeks and suddenly be healthy. Being healthy requires good life choices that must be practiced every day. Will gym equipment make a kid healthy? No. Will the opportunity to challenge themselves and learn how to hold themselves accountable for their health? Absolutely.

The programs themselves are not what will fight childhood obesity. Hope for a healthier way to live, however, may be just what these children need. Hope is the cornerstone for success. And if the kids participating in these summer camps and open ice hours can bring that hope home with them, there just may be a few more wiffle ball games happening around the city.