Youth Engagement and Opportunity Report


February 28, 2011 - Bakari McClendon, Ilene Satchell, Anne Scott

This youth engagement and opportunity report begins with an assessment of where we are today and what we need to do to have a healthy, green, fair and affordable food system that supports healthy lives and bright futures for Michigan’s young people.

First, we look at our current state of affairs: a snapshot of what is helping or inhibiting young people in Michigan from attaining positive health, education and opportunity outcomes in the current food system. We then lay out the 10-year goals and the supportive strategies developed by the youth engagement and opportunity work group to address issues related to young people within the development of Michigan’s good food future.

Current State of Affairs

Michigan’s food system should support youth with healthy, nutritious food and an economic sector rich with opportunity for young people. The youth engagement and opportunity work group spent six months working through what the roles and impacts for youth would be in a good food system. There was a lot to take in and a lot to understand about the ways our food system affects the lives of young people in Michigan.

The needs of Michigan’s children for better health and future opportunity are complex and great. Ultimately, we focused on three priority areas for channeling efforts that support youth and the development of the Michigan good food system: health, education and opportunity.

It is important to note here that these priority areas and strategies are neither exhaustive nor exclusive of other efforts. Our aim here is not to propose strategies that will compete with existing efforts but rather be a call for leveraging the assets we have and empowering the work of those who are already leading the way.

Michigan Children’s Health

Michigan’s youth are paying a high price for the shortcomings of the current food system. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that the national rate of childhood overweight has been increasing dramatically. Between 1963 and 1970, 5 percent of youth ages 12 to 19 were classified as overweight in the U.S. The percentages have steadily increased since then. According to the most recently published results of the Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) in 2007, 28.9 percent of Michigan youth are overweight or obese. The Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance Systems reports that of Michigan’s most vulnerable youth, lower income children between 2 and 4 years of age, 29.5 percent are obese or overweight. Among older children, 12 percent of Michigan high school students are categorized as obese, and 83 percent reported eating less than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Overweight children face critical health consequences. The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) says, “Overweight children, especially adolescents, are more likely to become obese adults than children with a healthy weight. Serious health conditions – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hypertension, early maturation and orthopedic problems – occur with increased frequency in overweight youth. Type 2 diabetes, once regarded as an adult disease, has increased among children and adolescents.” Additionally, youth face social stigma and emotional health issues related to obesity, which can affect social health and even academic achievement.

Many of the factors that contribute to youth overweight and obesity are environmental – the majority of food purchasing and preparation decisions are made for youth, particularly in the two arenas where youth spend the majority of their time: school and home. At home, youth are vulnerable to poverty and unreliable food access experienced by their families. Youth may influence some household purchases, but they are largely constrained to what food is made available by the lead household food purchaser. Further, as youth develop eating habits and preferences, they are greatly influenced by the preparation practices and consumption patterns within the home, for better or for worse.

The school environment offers many opportunities for intervention in childhood obesity trends. First, school-based interventions have been shown to be effective for engaging students, families and the community in addressing nutritional health issues. Second, increasing numbers of children are participating in school meal programs, and more students are eating up to three meals a day at school. Finally, food industry marketing is aggressive and pervasive in schools and can undermine community and state efforts to affect youth nutrition, eating habits and preferences. According to a Consumers International Report, $500 is spent by the food industry in marketing to children for every $1 the World Health Organization spends to address nutrition and obesity issues.

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