In the News

September 2012

September: National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

In early September 2012, President Barack Obama proclaimed September 2012 as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, encouraging all Americans to learn about and engage in activities that promote healthy eating and greater physical activity by all our nation's children.

The rise of obesity in children and adolescents has become one of the most significant public health issues of our time. Nearly a third of American children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Those youngsters are likely to become overweight or obese adults unless they change their eating habits and begin exercising.

With its focus on preventive medicine and total health, Kaiser Permanente has many initiatives that address childhood obesity. One of those is Kaiser Permanente's Educational Theatre Program.

Most days, Stefanie Michaud carries on studying, learning and socializing like every young student does in high school.

But several days a month for the last three years, this high school senior at Kapolei High School in Hawaii transforms into a sleuth on the case in Kaiser Permanente's The Amazing Food Detective — an interactive play that helps young students understand the importance of healthy food and physical activity choices.

"I think the kids in our audience really learn about the important messages of eating healthy because we do it in such a fun way," Stefanie said. "We tell jokes, sing songs and use a lot of slap-stick humor, which they love. We also repeat things a lot, so the messages stick. They don't even realize they are learning some very important information."

Since 1986, Kaiser Permanente has brought health education to our communities through the Educational Theatre Program (ETP).Through music, comedy and drama, ETP theatre productions are offered to schools and communities free of charge in each of Kaiser Permanente's eight regions.

In Hawaii and Ohio they partner with local schools districts to have high school students be the actors in the program, not professional actors. Through this model, the young actors become knowledgeable and passionate about health issues through the process of rehearsing and performing a production. They are also viewed as health education ambassadors within their schools and communities and are able to competently educate their peers on certain issues.

"They don't see us as teacher or adults, they see us as their friends," said Thomas Olson, a sophomore at Kapolei High School and actor with the Educational Theatre Program.

And perhaps a friend can be more convincing for them to eat their fruits and vegetables, Thomas said, adding he hopes students leave the production interested to at least give a new vegetable a try.

"I love seeing how they respond to our performances," Thomas said. "You can see on their faces that they are learning."

The Amazing Food Detective

The Amazing Food Detective is just one of several award winning theatrical productions, skill-building workshops, and youth engagement programs coming from our eight theatre programs, covering a range of topics such as nutrition, exercise, diversity, peer pressure, conflict management, domestic violence, grief and loss, depression, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, literacy promotion, and drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Karla Melendez, manager of Family Programming, Southern California Educational Theatre, was part of the initial crew who developed The Amazing Food Detective in 2005.

"I remember we had two weeks to pull something together," Melendez said. "At the time obesity was quickly becoming a topic that we knew we needed to talk about."

As the show began expanding across the Southern California region, Melendez said the need to go beyond just a single performance was clear. The region began adding workshops to dive further into teaching children the importance of healthy eating and active living.

"On one of the workshop days we just simply play with the kids – teaching them how to play again," she said. "Since many of the schools have lost their physical education programs, we knew this was an important piece. Another important tool is teaching them how to complete a food log and track the number of fruits and vegetables they are eating every day."

"On one of the workshop days we just simply run around and play with the kids – teaching them how to play in an active way," she said. "Since many of the schools have lost their physical education programs, we knew this was an important piece. Another important tool is teaching them about the tricks advertisers use to make them want to have unhealthy food. Kids don't like to be fooled, so this, along with teaching them how to read food labels makes them better informed and healthier consumers."

Over the last couple of year's Melendez' passion has been with another critical audience – the parents.

"Parents are often scared that they are going to show up and be told they've done everything wrong," Melendez said. "Or they fear that the changes they know they should make won't be accepted by the entire family."

In the workshop "From the Label to the Table" parents learn about how to understand food labels and, hopefully, feel empowered to make changes – even small ones – for their family.

"And parents need to have fun, too," she said, which is why the workshop incorporates a lot of ETP's spirit, using humor and drama to get their point across.

Since 2005, The Amazing Food Detective has been adopted and modified in each of the eight ETP departments. And there have been other programs developed around child obesity, meeting the needs and ages groups of different audiences.

1 1/2

In 2011, the Northwest region developed a production for middle school students called "1 ½" that took on a different reality of child obesity than many have seen before, said Keith Bachman, primary care physician, Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

"The show was effective at showing how truly complex obesity really is and how obesity and society's reactions to it can influence both physical and emotional health," Dr. Bachman said.

Dr. Bachman was part of the team who helped develop "1 ½" which included social workers, pediatricians, school officials and community members. The playwright created the script based on conversations he had with high school students.

"It's a very powerful production," Dr. Bachman said. "It didn't wrap up with a nice tidy bow on the end, but instead spoke very seriously to the many issues around obesity from a child's perspective, such as bullying and that many adults don't set a very good example. My hope is that the audience walked away with an understanding of the emotional, cultural, and psychological implications around obesity."

Find out more: Check out the Our Locations tab to find out what child obesity programs are available in your area.

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