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New Booklet in AAAS's "Healthy People" Series Offers Simple Advice on Obesity
As U.S. political and medical leaders have called for increased efforts to prevent childhood obesity, AAAS, the science society, has published a plain-language booklet—to be distributed through the nation's libraries—to better inform diverse populations about the escalating problem of obesity. Free of medical or scientific jargon and easy to read, "The Science Inside: Obesity" emphasizes the importance of good health habits such as eating right and exercising.
"One-third of the nation's adults are obese, another third is overweight, and children are now being affected by adult diseases, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in numbers that are discouraging, to say the least. So clearly we need to find ways to combat this problem before it gets any worse," says Kirstin Fearnley, AAAS Education and Human Resources program associate. Fearnley researched and wrote much of the booklet.
On 1 February, U.S. President George W. Bush described childhood obesity, in particular, as a costly problem that is putting stress on American families. And in a recent poll commissioned by Research!America and The Endocrine Society, obesity, or being overweight, was seen as the most important health issue for children in the United States. More than a quarter of Americans named obesity as the top health issue for kids.
Fearnley hopes that the obesity booklet will give people information that is simple to understand and ideas about how to take control of their health. One of the booklet's goals is to provide parents with simple tools to help their children stay healthy. It also informs readers of the disproportionate prevalence of obesity among some socioeconomic and ethnic groups.
"The Science Inside: Obesity" is part of the AAAS Healthy People Library Project and was funded in part by the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health. It is the seventh publication in "The Science Inside" series, which covers topics of general health interest. Other topics include: Asthma and Allergies, Your Health (a booklet on biomedical research), Diabetes, Having Healthy Babies, High Blood Pressure, and HIV and AIDS. Each booklet can be downloaded for free.
The Healthy People Library Project is a five-year project to bring to the nation's 16,000 libraries resources and strategies that can help them better serve the public's need for health information and to connect them to minority consumers in their communities. The project was designed to provide underrepresented groups easy access to current, reliable information on selected health topics at their local libraries.
"Medical information is, in general, written at far too high a reading level to be understood by the general public," explained Fearnley. "We condense the information into understandable pieces that people can process more easily, which in turn makes people more amenable to learning more about their health and the science behind their own bodies."
The overarching goal for all the books in "The Science Inside" series is to communicate scientifically based and accurate health information in a way the general public understands and doesn't find intimidating. In addition, the series was formulated with the particular goal of reaching out to people in minority and low-income communities, where certain health conditions, including obesity, are more prevalent.
"With this book, as with the rest of the series, we hope people come away with their basic questions answered and able to formulate more in-depth questions that they would like to discuss with their healthcare providers," says Fearnley.
The obesity book is modeled after the project's original plain-language booklet, "Your Genes, Your Choices," which used case studies to educate the public about the science behind the Human Genome Project.
Colorful, and peppered with interesting pictures and anecdotes, the obesity booklet takes a common-sense approach to fighting obesity. From the brightly colored mélange of vegetables that grace its front cover to the inside diagrams of bodily processes that help explain how humans can become obese, the book aims to engage readers at all levels. In addition, pictures of families and children illustrate the importance of staying fit, or how a tendency toward obesity can be passed down genetically.
"The booklet talks about how the body takes in energy and what it does with excess energy it doesn't use up, and addresses the health problems obesity contributes to, as well as how to prevent and treat obesity," says Maria Sosa, AAAS Education and Human Resources project director.
Besides being freely available online through AAAS, 6,000 hard copies of the obesity booklet will be available at selected libraries throughout the country. AAAS staff will disseminate the obesity booklet through schools and teachers, and library meetings.
"Libraries will serve as the primary mechanism," says Sosa. "That was the original intent of the grant, to empower libraries to play an active role in increasing the quality and years of healthy life and eliminate health disparities for all Americans, especially African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native-Americans."
13 March 2007