DuPage County has an obesity problem and it must be curbed.
That is the mission of FORWARD, (Fighting Obesity Reaching healthy Weight Among Residents of DuPage), a leadership initiative helmed by a coalition of five YMCAs, the YMCA of Northwestern DuPage County and the DuPage County Health Department. The coalition gathered 60 community leaders from five DuPage municipalities—Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Elmhurst, Downers Grove and Lombard—to launch an initiative to reverse obesity in DuPage County.
"Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and DuPage County is mirroring the national average," Walter Johnson, CEO of YMCA of Northwestern DuPage County said during the conference held Oct. 7 at the B.R. Ryall YMCA in Glen Ellyn.
Johnson said FORWARD's mission is to educate local leaders on ways to educate residents about obesity and determine strategies to combat it in their communities.
"We have to prevent and reverse this trend of obesity," said Ann Marchetti, director of Forward.
Marchetti said FORWARD's plan is to begin in the five communities represented at the Oct. 7 meeting and expand it throughout the other 27 municipalities in DuPage County.
Initiative members gathered existing data on obesity in DuPage County and found what they said was a startling discovery—34 percent of children and 56 percent of adults in DuPage County are overweight or obese.
"We were not prepared to see that," said Dr. David Dungan, a physician with DuPage Medical Group and medical advisor to the FORWARD Initiative. "We always thought things were better in DuPage County considering all the advantages we have here."
Dungan said it's disconcerting to see more than one-third of children struggling with weight. Contributing factors to being overweight include a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices, he said. That was the case for Joey Asbach, 12, from Naperville.
When Joey was 11-years old he began to feel self-conscience about his weight. He was carrying 120 pounds on his four-foot frame and clothing was not fitting correctly any more. His mother, Claudia, said she noticed her son was not getting taller so much as he was getting wider. Claudia said she often served comfort foods to her family, but she soon realized the food was not a comfort to her son.
"I didn't feel proud of myself and I didn't like the way I looked," Joey said.
So he and his family decided to do something about his weight. They began to look closely at the food they bought and checking it for fat content, fiber content and the amount of calories. Plugging the programs at the YMCA, Asbach said he also began exercising.
"I'm now down 17 pounds," he proudly said as he held up a picture of himself at the weight he started.
Claudia said she was proud of her son's efforts in changing his life. She said she is also proud of him for encouraging healthy eating habits and exercise in the rest of his family.
"Around the house we call him Jillian," she said, referring to fitness expert Jillian Michaels from the television show The Biggest Loser.
Joey's weight loss story is one the members of FORWARD want to see throughout the county.
Dungan, a pediatrician, said because so many children are obese, he is seeing the onset of many adult medical problems, including hypertension and diabetes, in children.
Marchetti said FORWARD will partner with various organizations throughout the county, including the schools (both public and private), social organizations and faith-based organizations to promote healthy living. She said FORWARD will work with the data gathered by the schools to identify and monitor childhood obesity over the next three years. They will also identify population-wide contributing factors to obesity, including poverty rates. FORWARD's program is funded by a community grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"As the rate of poverty increases in the county, access to healthy choices decreases," Dungan said.
Marchetti said organizing is just the first step. She said the organization will pinpoint local leaders across the county to encourage changes in local policy and environment to prevent obesity.
"We have to make these changes substantial and that will be empowering," Marchetti said.