Shortly after graduating from our program, Pedro Argueta participated in the biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. He presented his own research about risk factors for obesity among autistic children and enjoyed learning about topics such as healthy retail and improving nutrition for immigrant communities. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Pedro!
The biennial 2017 Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego brought together health professionals from around the country to discuss strategies to improve the health of children and adolescents through healthy eating and physical activity. This year’s theme focused on addressing health disparities- which included a session on defining racism and institutional racism by Camara Jones and Xavier Morales, who both have worked on issues surrounding these social determinants of health. The entire session was devoted to defining these terms, but I had hoped to learn more about next steps to move the agenda of addressing institutional racism in health organizations. Since the majority of attendants were white, I hope the next conference includes this component.
Posters sessions included work and research from across the country that addresses issues surrounding childhood obesity. These included removing fast food and soda ads near schools, promoting healthy eating inside supermarkets through health messages, proposing new methods for measuring physical activity in school, and, of course, the one I presented called “Risk Factors Associated with Obesity among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the US.” My poster provided a review of literature of possible risk factors for overweight or obese among children with autism compared to their typically developing counterparts. Some of those risk factors include more physical inactivity, unhealthy eating patterns, involuntary weight gain from medication side effects, and lack of sleep. Therefore, interventions that address obesity in this population should account for these factors and be tailored accordingly. The results and conclusions from my literature review sparked discussion and questions from fellow attendants. I could not answer all of their questions, but that is one of the benefits of attending conferences such as these- an opportunity to learn from one another. I got to network with professionals that I would have not been able to in the larger group setting due to the large number of attendants. It felt like having my LinkedIn profile printed in large paper for everyone to see. Presenting at such a conference is an experience I recommend anyone that has not done so.
Of the sessions, a number of them stood out for providing a fresh insight to how we address health and nutrition issues in our communities. The “Best Practices, Opportunities, and Tensions in Healthy Retail Interventions” was led by a renowned group of researchers that have been involved in policies about healthy retail. Ample energy and money continues to be spent on changing the retail environment to promote the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Because the ultimate factor that influences the purchase of fruits and vegetables is cost, healthy messages inside the store provide little motivation. Further research is needed about what is most motivating, but it does shed light into the bigger issue and hopefully this will push organizations to tackle low fruit and vegetable intake through other efforts.
The second session was titled “Immigrants’ Access to Nutrition and Other Healthcare Benefits.” Due to the recent political climate, numerous immigrants in the US are scared of being deported. As a result, the immigrant community has stopped using some health services. The best option outlined by the panel suggested that immigrants should have access to a lawyer so they are aware of their rights. I thought they could have more thoroughly addressed the case for undocumented immigrants.
The battle against childhood obesity becomes complex as new research pinpoints additional factors that may be associated with weight gain. As the theme of this conference highlighted, health disparities must be addressed in order to see results.