80 percent of overweight adolescents grow up to be obese adults. With that in mind a new iPhone app, based on a book, targets the country’s weight problem at the source; child hood obesity.
Merliee Kern worked in the weight loss industry before deciding to focus raising awareness on the issue of childhood obesity. In 2007 she published a children’s book “Making Healthy Choices-- A Story to Inspire Fit, Weight-Wise Kids.” Kern says she wrote the book because after years in the weight loss industry she saw all the resources and information available for adults, but not much was available for children.
“There was very little if any, in fact, that spoke directly to children in a tone and voice that would resonate with them. Speaking to them in a way that would resonate. And certainly not in the children’s literature realm. So I felt like I had enough knowledge and information and I have my own children as well, not dealing with the problem but knowing how to promote a healthy household. So all of this sort of converged and motivated me to write the book.”
Kern’s book doesn’t lecture children on how to eat, but rather tells a story. The character makes choices that the reader is intended to notice aren’t healthy. She says the choices that the character makes are the typical mistakes, like eating junk food mindlessly in front of the TV, that kids make all the time. Kern then shows the possible health and social ramifications of childhood obesity, including a concerned doctor and feeling self-conscience.
Because of the success she saw with the book, Kern decided to make an app for iPhones and iPads. It’s called “Kids Making Healthy Choices.” Kern says she was interested in finding new ways to get the book out to children, but there are others she thinks the book will help.
“But it’s also meant for parents as well to get them thinking, to spark discussion. In fact at the end of the book there’s a series of discussion prompts because a lot of parents don’t know how to approach their child to have that conversation especially if there is that issue at hand. So it’s really a resource for both and there’s always that struggle of how to get it in somebody’s hands. An app just made sense as another channel of distribution. It allowed me to not only get the book in the hands of children, parents, educators but additional resources as well. There’s a recipe section, there’s a tools and resources section, there’s a news information and statistics section. It allowed me to give them even more than in the book.”
14 percent of Alaska’s ten to 17 year olds are obese. However, program manager for the State of Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program Karol Fink says the ability to measure the obesity rate is difficult with children. She says even children are rated based on the Body Mass Index but there are a couple extra variables to consider.
“However, with children, what we see if they have different body fatness throughout their lifetime, which is normal until about the age of 19. So when they’re two and they are a little bit chubbier that is considered healthy but as they get older there’s dips and curves. There’s a normalized chart that you can look at based on age, weight, height and the sex of a child that gives you the information if a child is overweight or obese.”
Fink says there are several programs in play that are intended to help fight against childhood obesity. The Department of Natural Resources is working with the Obesity Prevention and Control Program to provide famers markets with Quest card readers so that lower income families can afford fresh fruits and vegetables.
Another program underway is in the schools. Fink says children spend the majority of their day in school and therefore nutrition at school is incredibly important.
“So, for example, some of coordinators have really worked at improving the food that’s sold outside of the school meals program. So the foods that you find in vending machines, in school stores, and at sporting events. We’ve seen some great progress in that area.”
Kern says her goal with her book and app is simple: to help children stay or become healthy.
“There’ll be this insight and this understanding that no matter how heavy a child might be or how high the mountain may seems, that one childhood obesity is not only preventable but it’s reversible. And it’s really very small choices that could be made all throughout the day that add up and make the difference. It’s not about going on some hardened diet regimen, it’s very simple things as the child lives their life. And also there’s parental responsibility. We have to enable and equip our children.”
If the iPhone and iPad app goes well, Kern says she will develop it for the Android and eventually develop more sections on the app. “Kids Making Healthy Choices” is available now on iTunes.