State Issues

Juliene Flanders: Fighting childhood obesity a high priority in Patterson

Juliene Flanders
Juliene Flanders Submitted

PATTERSON – As the director of the Department of Recreation and Community Services, I’m not just managing Patterson’s facilities and public programs, I am your partner in health.

At a time when obesity rates remain high, my colleagues and I know that to improve our communities’ health we need to make addressing childhood obesity our top priority. Sure, it might not be the “sexiest” topic, but it is certainly important.

Nationwide, 1 in 3 children is either overweight or obese. In Patterson and the other communities on Stanislaus County’s West Side, the rate is even higher – nearly half of our city’s children are overweight. And while obesity is a complicated, multifaceted issue, overconsumption of sodas and sugary beverages offered in our schools, public buildings and facilities contributes to this deadly condition.

Research shows the average American drinks nearly 50 gallons of sugary drinks per year. Plus, in California:

▪ More than 10.7 million residents over age 1 drink at least one soda or other sugary beverage daily;

▪ Forty-one percent of children from age 2 to 11; 62 percent of those 12 to 17; and 24 percent of adults drink one soda or other sugary beverage daily, with consumption varying widely by county and city.

Research shows that children who drink one or more sugary beverages per day have a 55 percent greater chance of being overweight or obese. Studies as recent as last November have shown that corporate marketing disproportionately targets our kids for unhealthy food and sugary drink advertisements across the nation. These statistics are even more alarming for communities with less access to healthy beverage and food options, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

According to the nonprofit California Food Policy Advocates, 40 percent of school districts and recreation centers across the state reported that youths did not have access to free drinking water during programs sponsored by recreation centers. Further, the USDA estimates that 50.8 percent of residents of Stanislaus County live more than 1 mile from a retail outlet that offers fresh food, which places Patterson in the midst of a food desert.

Parks and recreation agencies can be one of our city’s first lines of defense in attacking childhood obesity. And though our role is most often seen as a supporting one, your Patterson Department of Recreation and Community Services is ready to lead by example.

I’m working to reverse the policies that put sugar-sweetened beverages in our public sports facilities, aquatic complexes, recreation centers, and park vending machines and concession operations. We’ll start the process of ensuring that water and other healthy beverages are readily accessible at little or no cost.

We’ll also adopt other strategies, such as those proposed in California’s Obesity Prevention Plan, to reduce sugary beverage consumption: establishing acceptable standards in government buildings and centers, and supporting the elimination of sport drinks during school days at public middle and high schools.

Finally, we’ll look to partner with Central California’s Regional Obesity Prevention Program, an area initiative working to address obesity by creating healthy food and beverage environments, promoting fresh foods through local sourcing (farm to institution), improving school nutrition and increasing access to healthy beverages in schools.

The reality is that only a balanced, collaborative approach will improve the lives of our children, family and friends. By using our access to communities to support healthy eating and active living through smart policy changes and innovative new strategies, your Department of Recreation and Parks is doing its part to help everyone in the Valley stay healthy and live longer.

Flanders is the Recreation and Community Services Director for the city of Patterson.