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NYSHealth Hosts “A Conversation with Christina Economos, Ph.D.”

October 15, 2008

Members of New York State’s public health community gathered recently to listen to Tufts University professor Dr. Christina Economos discuss the findings of her three-year trial on childhood obesity, “Shape Up Somerville: Eat Smart. Play Hard,”

Economos’ study tested the effects a communitywide, systemic intervention would have on childhood obesity rates. It compared the body mass indexes of first and third graders in Somerville—her test community—and two similar communities in the region—her control samples—over the course of two years to determine if the intervention was preventing undesirable weight gain. At the end, the study yielded several positive and some surprising results, all of which will be published in the coming year.

A major key to the success of the trial was Economos’ work building community investment and trust in the intervention. In the year preceding the study, Economos created a sense of urgency for implementing an intervention in Somerville by discussing the issue of childhood obesity with community groups throughout the city, investing key leaders in the work—including the mayor—and advocating for key structural and policy changes at the local level.

Once the trial was underway, Economos and the community implemented a number of changes aimed at reducing obesity rates including: revamping the entire school lunch menu to feature low energy density foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains; increasing the number of students walking to school by organizing parent-led walk-to-school groups and increasing the number of crossing-guards around the school; and implementing an in-school curriculum in 100% of first and third grade classroom focuses on healthy living.

NYSHealth was particularly interested in hearing from Economos because of her success in modifying the built environment and working with community members to produce improved health outcomes. As NYSHealth works to reverse the diabetes epidemic in New York State through a variety of measures—including enabling communities to promote prevention strategies, like making nutritious foods and recreation spaces more available—Economos’ work is an excellent example of the measurable positive results from a communitywide comprehensive intervention .

A number of areas across the country are interested in applying Economos’ methods to their own communities, and she is also in the process of replicating her work on a broader scale in three new communities.

View Dr. Economos' slide presentation.