Health & Medicine

September 23, 2012

Group focuses on education to tackle obesity problem

It was all about healthy food choices at the Oak Park farmers market Saturday morning.

It was all about healthy food choices at the Oak Park farmers market Saturday morning.

Several dozen activists fanned out, passing out pamphlets and advising people what to eat and what not to eat.

"Obesity rates are up," said Amber Stott, founder of the Sacramento-based California Food Literacy Center, the organizer of Saturday's Food Literacy Fair.

The event, a collaboration between 15 nonprofits and the farmers market, reached 2,000 people at the grass-roots level, organizers said.

"We're a society that eats out of drive-thrus, boxes and cans," said Stott, 35. "Coming out, touching and tasting this fresh California-grown produce is one step toward solving our obesity problem."

Community members, young and old, were spreading their own healthy recipes.

Mark Brunkhorst, a student at Leo A. Palmiter High School in Sacramento, demonstrated how healthy eating could also be delicious.

Decked out in his white chef's uniform, Brunkhorst crafted his "Garden Italian Sandwich" – made from salami and fresh produce served on rosemary focaccia – in front of a dozen spectators waiting to get a taste. "I love food, and I love eating," the 16-year-old said.

The fair included a speech by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who sponsored a resolution to have September declared "Food Literacy Month" in California. "Education is needed to inspire change," the Sacramento Democrat told a small crowd.

Stott's organization has focused its efforts on educating children about healthy eating – something she believes is critical to tackling the national obesity problem.

"It's mind-blowing that children have hypertension," Stott said. "We're aiming for a future where people know how to cook and people eat fruits and vegetables."

The outreach comes at a crucial time for those fighting the growing obesity epidemic. California's obesity rate among adults stands at 23.8 percent, while the national rate is 35.7 percent, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has ignited controversy with a plan to limit soft drinks sold in the city to 16 ounces. The measure, which Bloomberg called "the single biggest step any city, I think, has ever taken to curb obesity," was approved by the city's health board Sept. 13 and will take effect in March.

For now, Dickinson said he has no plans to legislate against obesity. "We're going to take a path of education rather than regulation," he said, though he didn't rule out that option in the future.

To many, eating healthy is about making the right choices on your own.

Land Park resident Brian Burns, 38, brings his two young children to the Oak Park farmers market every weekend. The family takes home a big bag of vegetables and fruits each time, he said.

That's what health advocates across the country, including Stott, hope will eventually happen. "The missing piece is education," Stott said. "It's a movement that takes all of us."

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