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After increasing steadily for decades, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off. This policy brief examines reports from across the country to learn more about where progress is being made to address childhood obesity.
Over the last two decades childhood obesity has risen at an alarming rate in the United States. In 1999, 13 percent of children ages six to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight. This prevalence has nearly tripled. Now, the number of overweight children in the nation exceeds 12 million. Evidence shows that children who enter adulthood obese are unlikely to shed the burden. And they also have a higher risk of premature death and disability in adulthood. Sedentary behavior is partly to blame. Forty-three percent of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day, according to a federal report. But excessive screen time - whether it's the TV or computer - is only one obstacle that limits children's ability to obtain the one hour of daily exercise recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. The built environment surrounding a child's neighborhood and school can also help or hinder physical activity. Research shows that children who live closer to parks and recreational facilities are more active than those who live further away. And active living, along with eating nutritious foods, plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight.
Incarceration is inherently traumatic, dehumanizing, and harmful. It imposes tremendous costs on individuals, their loved ones, and our communities. Fortunately, there is much that LGBTQ advocates can do to combat the crisis of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects poor LGBTQ and LGBTQ people of color. Advocates can work with police departments to stop profiling and discriminatory policing and press them to adopt policies ensuring transparency and accountability. They can support expanded probation and parole, as well as diversion programs and specialty courts that can reduce imprisonment. Advocates should lobby their state representatives for criminal justice reform and challenge local laws that criminalize poverty. This document lists resources that will be useful for advocates looking to get involved in the types of efforts described above.
Law enforcement responses to people with mental illnesses are among the most complex and time-consuming calls for officers, threaten the safety of officers and residents alike, and have the potential for tragic outcomes. And when people with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders who could be safely treated in the community are incarcerated, the impact on their lives is staggering. The research is clear: People with mental illnesses who are referred to behavioral health treatment by law enforcement officers experience fewer subsequent contacts with the criminal justice system than those who were not referred to treatment. Law enforcement and behavioral health agency leaders across the country are increasingly partnering to develop Police-Mental Health Collaboration (PMHC) programs as part of a comprehensive approach to improve outcomes for this population, but also to help communities prioritize resources to have the greatest impact on public safety.
Jails have become warehouses for people with mental illness. Nationwide, nearly half a million inmates with mental illness are in local jails, and an estimated 10-25% have a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia. In Los Angeles County alone, at least 3,200 inmates with a diagnosed severe mental illness crowd the jails on a typical day, which constitutes about 17% of the jail population. These numbers capture only the number of inmates with a diagnosed severe mental illness: the actual number may well be higher. Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has called L.A.'s jail system "the nation's largest mental hospital." The war on drugs and other law enforcement policies have resulted in mass incarceration of low-level drug and other non-violent offenders, many of whom are arrested for behaviors related to a mental illness. In L.A., roughly 1,100 inmates with mental illness are behind bars on an average night for charges or convictions for nonviolent offenses. And many of the behaviors that lead to such charges are rooted in mental illness. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, drug offenses make up the largest portion of charges for this inmate population, nearly 27%. "Mental illness frequently becomes de facto criminalized when those affected by it use illegal drugs, sometimes as a form of self-medication, or engage in behaviors that draw attention and police response."
A child's health is a key predictor for his or her future success and well-being. Unfortunately, far too many children face barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential because of where they live, learn and play. The inequitable distribution of social, economic and environmental resources across communities - often called the social determinants of health - create challenges for healthy living. Socioeconomic conditions (e.g., concentrated poverty), access to health care and transportation options, educational and employment opportunities, and aesthetic elements (e.g., green spaces and vibrant public spaces) result in differences in opportunities and exposure to health-promoting resources such as child care, high performing schools, affordable housing, access to healthy food and safe spaces for physical activity. The availability and quality of these neighborhood resources and services have a major impact on the ability of children and families to make choices that support healthy growth and development. When children and families have access to these resources and services, children have more opportunities to thrive. On the contrary, children growing up in communities that lack these often suffer poorer health outcomes than their peers. These differences in health are known as health disparities.
Many schools are surrounded by fast food restaurants, which provide students with easy access to unhealthy foods and undermine schools' efforts to offer nutritious meals. Prohibiting fast food restaurants from locating near schools is one strategy to help reduce childhood obesity and support schools striving to improve students' health. NPLAN has developed a model ordinance that creates a "healthy food zone" by restricting fast food restaurants near schools or other areas children are likely to frequent.