Reflecting on Extraordinary Times and Looking Forward with Extraordinary Hope: CLOCC’s 2021 New Year’s Message

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

As we emerge from a year of unprecedented challenges and look forward to our plans for 2021, we at CLOCC first and foremost offer our sympathy and condolences to those who have lost a loved one during – or because of – the Coronavirus pandemic and have had to cope with that loss without the healing closeness of family and friends. You are in our thoughts.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic first took hold, it seemed that a focus on childhood obesity would be pushed to the margins of our local and national agendas. Yet, as data emerged about the virus, its consequences, and the inequities related to both infection and resulting illness, it became quickly apparent that the obesity epidemic and the global pandemic were intrinsically linked. Obesity is understood to be one of the most, significant risk factors for serious illness or death resulting from COVID-19. What’s more, the same upstream factors that contribute to inequities in obesity prevalence (structural racism, poverty, poor access to health and social services) were clearly also driving inequities in COVID-19 rates. Our concern that COVID-19 mitigation efforts would require that we put CLOCC’s obesity-prevention work on hold soon evolved into an understanding that we had to redouble our efforts. Our network would be called up on to support constituents’ ability to eat healthy and stay active when the economy, the food system, and the institutions that serve children (schools, childcare, parks) were shutting down.

I have been immensely impressed by the resilience demonstrated across our network in 2020. Partners, staff, colleagues, funders and other stakeholders have exhibited boundless flexibility and furious determination in responding to the pandemic. I look forward to the day when, with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we can reflect upon and celebrate the immeasurable examples of our public health field rising to this inauspicious occasion and adapting to meet the COVID-19 challenges that shook our city, our state, and our nation.

Early in the pandemic, CLOCC staff surveyed the network to develop an understanding of partner needs and concerns as we adjusted to our new realities. Based on that feedback, we added a COVID-19 resources section to our bi-weekly newsletter, followed soon thereafter by “CLOCC – Healthy at Home,” a collection of health and wellness tips based on 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® and promoted via social media and the newsletter. Our Kohl’s Cares®-funded work in and around Chicago Park District summer camps in the city’s south and west sides was expanded to include “Stay Fit Kits” that could be distributed to local families and used to support physical activity and nutrition at home. As Chicago Public Schools continued with remote learning, we took the step of creating “CLOCC – Healthy at Home for CPS” – a comprehensive library of online tools and health resources, cultivated to assist educators with supporting their students’ food and physical activity needs through the pandemic.

COVID-19 wasn’t our only driver of change as a staff in 2020. Midway through the year, we were proud to announce that CLOCC would be a founding member of Lurie Children’s Hospital’s new Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities. As the hub for Lurie Children’s community-based initiatives, the Magoon Institute’s diverse roster of programs is focused on health equity, population health, prevention, and advocacy. The Magoon Institute’s formation was certainly timely. In addition to the pandemic, the degree to which systemic racism and bias has affected this country’s Black communities became eminently clearer as we saw video after video of police brutality against black individuals, followed by examples of police violence enacted upon peaceful protestors of that brutality. The anger and chaos spilled into local streets, and the response caused many of the already-scarce healthy food and physical activity resources in Chicago neighborhoods to close, in some cases permanently.

White Coats for Black Lives, Lurie Children’s Hospital Photo

For several years, we have been working as an organization to identify and define social influencers of health (SIOH) and their connection to obesity. This too became incredibly timely work. Together we developed conceptual models that combined scientific literature and evidence with community lived experience to illustrate the connections between mental health, immigration status, housing, racism and childhood obesity. Our staff remains committed to framing CLOCC’s future work in the context of health equity and looks forward to collaborating with other Magoon Institute programs as we strive to create healthy places for Chicago’s families to live, learn and play.

So, what lies ahead in 2021? First, we will be developing fact sheets to summarize the conceptual models that illustrate the connections between upstream root causes, downstream effects on nutrition and physical activity, and obesity. Our goal is to provide these fact sheets to the CLOCC network to help partners make the case to their funders, elected officials, Boards of Directors, and constituents that addressing social influencers of health and preventing obesity are both imperative to improving the health and wellbeing of communities – especially those that have been hardest hit by the “triple pandemic” of racial injustice, economic crisis, and COVID-19. As local systems struggle with decisions about re-opening , we remain committed to supporting them in providing resources and information to children and their families to support healthy eating and physical activity in the absence of a structured school day. We are excited to be developing new curricula to support the integration of 5-4-3-2-1 Go! into virtual and in-person educational contexts, with an emphasis on out-of-school-time programs and a focus on older youth, among whom obesity rates continue to climb. We will be modernizing and digitizing our Neighborhood Walkability and Accessibility Assessment Tool to meet the technological needs of communities interested in examining and addressing the factors that make walking and other forms of active transportation challenging. Tying these efforts together, we will be leading and joining advocacy efforts to pursue the priorities laid out in our 2021-2025 Policy Agenda, released in December 2020.

We look forward to continued, enhanced work with the ever-growing CLOCC network and to welcoming new partners as our efforts expand to address factors that contribute to obesity at all levels – from achieving racial justice to improving food and physical activity access in communities, to educating and motivating children and their families to eat healthy and stay active. We look forward to the new and effective COVID-19 vaccines being equitably distributed to vast majorities of our communities so that we can once again come together in person to advance our collective mission of preventing childhood obesity with an equity lens.

So, I hope you will join me in a virtual “cheers” to a happier, healthier, safer, and more equitable 2021! As always, CLOCC staff is here to help and to hear what your hopes and needs are for obesity prevention in the coming year.

Black Lives Matter

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A statment from the staff at CLOCC

The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis was a catalyst for widespread response across the nation. Mr. Floyd’s death came painfully soon after the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville and of Ahmaud Arbery by three white men in Satilla Shores, Georgia. At the moment of his death, Mr. Arbery was out doing the very thing CLOCC promotes among children and families in Chicago – being physically active. These are just the most recent racially-motivated killings that individuals and communities of color, but in particular Black communities, have endured. In recent days, CLOCC staff came together virtually to reflect on these events, how we wanted to communicate about them, and the actions we wanted to take in response to them. This statement is a result of these collective reflections.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, states that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Seventy-two years have passed since the writing of this Declaration and still, acts of racism, segregation, poor education, disfranchised neighborhoods, and limited job opportunities, force African Americans to cope with racial, political, social, and economic exclusions that jeopardize their health, their well-being, and their lives.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery serve as the most recent painful reminders of our nation’s failure to recognize all individuals as human beings regardless of race. The staff of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children stands in solidarity with Black communities and others across our city and nation to declare that Black Lives Matter.

As an organization we have been committed since 2002 to our mission to confront the childhood obesity epidemic by promoting healthy and active lifestyles for all children. We have focused our efforts in communities experiencing inequitable access to healthy and affordable food, safe spaces for physical activity, and adequate forms of active transportation.

Over the past few years we have committed to a more explicit examination of the role that racism plays in shaping inequitable access to the resources, institutions, and environments that should be available to all children to support their right to live full and healthy lives. Even more recently, we have begun a process to actively identify and address the ways in which racism impacts our own practice. As an organization that convenes, collaborates, and communicates with a vast network of partners, we acknowledge that we must commit to actively listen to and elevate the voices of Black and Brown colleagues, partners, and communities as we join with countless others to dismantle pervasive systemic racism in our society at all levels.

Over the next several months we will be sharing our progress on these commitments, collaborating with new and long-standing partners on the development of solutions, and following the lead of partners who have experience and expertise far greater than our own in the fight for equity and justice. We humbly continue on this journey with our network and look forward to the work to come.

In solidarity,
The CLOCC Staff

CLOCC’s Year Ahead

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2020 poised to be a year of revitalization and renewal

By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

As we embark on a new year and (some would say) a new decade, exciting happenings are afoot for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). While 2019 was a year of exploration of the role that social influencers of health play in obesity, 2020 will be a year of action on those influencers! Increasing attention to health equity in Chicago and Illinois, as we welcomed a new Mayor and Governor with agendas focused on racial, social, and economic justice, aligns well with our ongoing efforts to practice obesity prevention with an equity lens.

Our 2019 quarterly convenings helped us increase our understanding of the impact of “upstream factors,” such as immigration status and housing instability on nutrition and physical activity, as well as the relationships among obesity and other prevalent public health challenges (e.g., trauma and mental health, climate change). CLOCC staff focused on identifying new partners and inviting them to the obesity prevention table, while continuing our established work to improve health outcomes for Chicago children and build better places for them to live, learn and play.

We are proud of the progress we made in 2019 on strategies that have been at the center of CLOCC’s obesity prevention over our 17-year history. In our community engagement work, with continued support from Kohl’s Cares®, CLOCC executed the second year of a multi-sector outreach initiative, Activating Neighborhood Environments for Health and Wellness (Chicago ANEHW), designed to integrate the 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® healthy lifestyle message into Chicago Park District summer camp programming. Working in Hamilton Park on the South Side, Loyola Park on the North Side, and Dvorak Park on the West Side, CLOCC built upon first-year learnings while working to provide Park District staff with 5-4-3-2-1 Go! tools to rally their summer campers around healthy food and fitness. CLOCC also partnered with the parks to host cooking demonstrations and family yoga nights throughout the summer. An out-of-home marketing campaign placed the 5-4-3-2-1 Go!! message front and center on nearby CTA platforms, in park facilities and on local billboards. The Consortium partnered with Kohl’s Cares and Lurie Children’s Injury Prevention and Research Center to continue a turnkey practice of providing bike helmets to summer campers, with additional bike helmet distribution provided at local community events. In total, 950 helmets were distributed over the summer. Highlights of the Kohl’s-funded summer camp work included field trips to Kilbourn Park, where campers had hands-on experience with the Park’s vegetable garden, and then – in between a full slate of field day activities – proceeded to make their own salsa from scratch.

Included in the Kohl’s-funded work was the opportunity to conduct walkability assessments tied to the three neighborhood parks. These assessments sought to measure the safety and accessibility of routes to the parks for community residents. CLOCC staff teamed up with three anchor organizations, and engaged nine organizations in total, to conduct the assessments. CLOCC staff also worked as technical assistance providers for the Healthy Chicago 2.0 seed grant projects that focused on increasing walkability in neighborhoods working on equitable transit-oriented development through the Elevated Chicago initiative. In total, over the past year, CLOCC has advised or coordinated a total of eight neighborhood walkability assessments, covering six different communities and training over 150 people.

Midway through the year, CLOCC partnered with Westside United and hired a community food access manager to support food access strategies in 10 West Side communities. Strategies include food pantry support to expand the capacity of the local emergency food system, an advocacy agenda to support food policy, supporting neighborhood schools to meet nutrition education required through the local school wellness policy, developing a fruit and vegetable voucher program to subsidize fresh produce purchases for patients of West Side United hospital partners, and increasing healthy food retail. This new role also supports Lurie Children’s Hospital’s food insecurity initiative, comprised of an on-site food pantry at Lurie Children’s Uptown Clinic and planning for a home-delivery program for food insecure patient families.

Joining us mid-year, CLOCC’s new health educator, bolstered by our program staff, hit the ground running in 2019. The team was ever-present in local schools, community centers and parks to deliver key messages to children, parents, educators and other health advocates. The training presentations themselves were updated with new data and best practices, while receiving a refreshed look and feel. The Consortium hosted 25 different 5-4-3-2-1 Go!! and fiveSMART trainings in 2019, supporting more than 75 unique organizations and training over 300 individuals. Our team was also able to provide four of those trainings in Spanish, in the Belmont-Cragin, Lower West Side, Little Village and Gage Park communities.

CLOCC’s efforts to support the Chicago Public School system through alignment with Healthy CPS have never been stronger. In the 2018-19 academic year, 57 schools supported by the Consortium’s +Network increased their compliance with Healthy CPS, with 28 +Network-supported schools achieving Healthy CPS status. Over 30% of all schools achieving Healthy CPS status were affiliated with the +Network. The Consortium’s obesity prevention efforts within CPS carried over into additional, broad-based work, as CLOCC teamed with Lurie Children’s Healthy Communities, the CPS Offices of Student Health and Wellness, Social Emotional Learning, and Student Protections & Title IX, to launch the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model to CPS partners. Supporting WSCC aligns with CLOCC’s integration of social influencers of health into traditional approaches to obesity prevention and our direct support of three neighborhood schools (in Belmont Cragin, South Chicago, and Humboldt Park) are serving as a model for implementation of WSCC across the district – a goal we have for the future of health and wellness in Chicago schools.

We will be building on all this exciting work as we look ahead to 2020. This month, CLOCC staff will meet with the Consortium’s Executive Committee to review the results of our multi-year exploration of the social influencers of health. Questions to be answered include: “How will our expanded understanding of the causes and influencers of obesity be shared with the CLOCC network?” and “How will we integrate these ideas into our collective work?” In March, we will share answers to these questions at our first full network convening of 2020, during which we will announce the re-establishment of several CLOCC Interest Groups or Working Groups to help us shape our approaches to intervening at the intersections of these social influencers and obesity. I highly encourage the network to keep a close eye on forthcoming communications and look for opportunities to join us as we move from exploration to action in the social influencers of health arena. Also in 2020, we will select three new communities to engage in Chicago ANEHW; continue to advance neighborhood walkability as a component of Chicago’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2026, and continue to integrate obesity prevention strategies into Chicago’s new public health agenda, Healthy Chicago 2025.

We look forward to collaborating with CLOCC network partners in a variety of ways in 2020 and we are eager to learn about all the exciting work our partners will be taking on. We hope to see many of you in March when we launch our social influencers of obesity action plan. Please continue to send us your thoughts, your question, and your stories of success at Wishing you all the best for a healthy, happy, productive, and equitable 2020!!

Reflecting on a Transformative Year and the Opportunities Ahead

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

As the New Year begins, I want to thank all of you who contributed to AdamBeckerFinalforWeb making 2018 a productive and informative year in childhood obesity prevention. Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that 2018 was a transformative year for CLOCC. At the end of 2017 as we celebrated the Consortium’s 15th Anniversary, we set bicycle wheels in motion to expand our collective approach to include social determinants and root causes of childhood obesity. Issues such as income inequality, immigration and racial equity were prominent in the national consciousness, and CLOCC’s formative steps to explore and address these issues as “upstream” contributors to the obesity epidemic appeared even timelier. While we continued core efforts to promote good nutrition and physical activity, to strengthen environments that support those behaviors, and advocate for related policies at all levels of government, 2018 was a year that energized CLOCC staff and partners to come together and collaborate across an even broader spectrum of issues that affect children’s ability to eat healthy and be active where they live, learn, and play.

New data indicate that childhood obesity rates are continuing to rise, especially in the “severely obese” category, and that racial and ethnic disparities persist. Here in Chicago, 19.1% percent of kindergartners and 18.2% of high schoolers are considered obese. As we know all too well, these trends continue to demonstrate ethnic and racial disparities. The 2015-16 National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys identified the prevalence of overweight and all classes of obesity were highest in Hispanic and black children (46% and 38%, respectively). New Healthy Chicago 2.0 data from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) show that while few kids are consuming sugary beverages (despite a lack of political leadership to sustain a tax at the County level and to initiate one at the State level) fewer are also attaining at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Fruit and vegetable consumption for youth also remained stagnant at just 18% having five or more servings a day, below our citywide goal of 20% meeting the 5-4-3-2-1 Go! recommendation. A recent telephone survey of 3,310 adult Chicagoans conducted by CDPH and CLOCC’s home institution, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, found that 62% considered childhood obesity to be one of their biggest concerns for children’s health, the second-highest ranked concern behind only drug abuse.

For 16 years our Consortium has worked to ensure that the best evidence-based strategies for obesity prevention are being implemented in childcare settings, schools, and neighborhoods across the city, but these recent data align with two ideas we articulated in 2018: that these strategies need to be better coordinated and co-located in communities facing obesity disparities, and that we must come together with experts in other disciplines to address the root causes of childhood obesity. Research continues to demonstrate how social and structural determinants such as racism, poverty, trauma, disinvestment in communities, a lack of affordable housing, and deteriorating neighborhood environments shape the health outcomes of our children. These issues are not just relevant for obesity and will require collaboration among those interested in other child health outcomes. That multi-sectoral work has already begun for CLOCC.

Our collective ability to navigate these new waters is bolstered by the size and diversity of our Consortium. Within our obesity-prevention network are individuals and organizations addressing myriad public health issues, with efforts spanning from neighborhood streets to the halls of Congress. It is a delicate process to incorporate an obesity-prevention lens to far-reaching societal issues such as racism or violence, but Consortium is motivated to shed light on these factors and forge new partnerships and new approaches to the address them. CLOCC staff has been inspired by the positive feedback and interest shown by our partners as we have charted this new course over the past year. As we begin to operationalize this expanded world-view and take on new action to address the root causes of childhood obesity, it is also inspiring to look back on some of the successes we have achieved together over the last year.

Thanks to generous funding from Kohl’s Cares, CLOCC embarked upon a two-year, multi-sector outreach program to incorporate the 5-4-3-2-1 Go! healthy lifestyle message into Chicago Park District summer camp programming. Partnering with the Park District, CLOCC trained summer camp counselors in Little Village, Englewood and Rogers Park on how to deliver the message and integrate it into camp programming. We supported nutrition and physical activity behavior messaging with bike helmet distribution at community events, an out-of-home marketing campaign, and comprehensive pre-and-post-program evaluation indicating that our multi-pronged approach was influencing healthy behaviors.

And speaking of the out-of-home marketing campaign, the Kohl’s Cares funding enabled us to give CLOCC’s 5-4-3-2-1 Go! message a much-needed makeover. The colorful new look and feel for the flyers and posters was also featured on billboards and bus kiosks in the three focus neighborhoods. As always, English and Spanish versions of the new flyer are available on the CLOCC website.

Now in its third year, CLOCC’s “+Network“ continues to demonstrate its value for Chicago Public Schools working to achieve “Healthy CPS” status. For the 2017-18 school year, the 15 member-strong +Network contributed to a 76% average Healthy CPS achievement rate for schools receiving Healthy CPS technical assistance (compared to a 57% average Healthy CPS achievement rate among schools that did not receive any support). Following this success, we were excited to see the Plus Network grow to 18 member organizations for the 18-19 school year.

The Consortium’s longstanding efforts to support Chicago-area hospitals along the path to Baby Friendly designation saw another success in 2018 as University of Chicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital Family Birth Center became the city’s fifth labor and delivery hospital to earn the distinction. As we wind down this work in 2019, we are extremely proud that in 4 short years we have helped all 5 Baby Friendly-designated hospitals in Chicago and two suburban hospitals to obtain this designation, indicating their success in implementing policies and practices that support breastfeeding among women making that choice.

In September, CLOCC wrapped up the three years of supporting 25 corner stores in suburban Cook County, in collaboration with the Cook County Department of Public Health, the University of Illinois Extension, and community based organizations in 8 south and west suburbs to offer fresh produce and other healthy items to suburban shoppers.

2018 saw an important evolution in the format of CLOCC Quarterly Meetings. Based on feedback from Consortium partners throughout 2016-17, we used our convening opportunities to hone our understanding of the connections between childhood obesity and “upstream” issues such as housing, climate change, community economic vibrancy, and neighborhood walkability & accessibility. For the final meeting of 2018 we shared what we had learned with 100 participants who also helped us to identify policy challenges and opportunities to address the connections between obesity and mental health, immigration, housing and community development. These recommendations will influence our direction in 2019 and beyond.

Moving forward, CLOCC will continue to employ the strategies that have made this Consortium a leader in the field of childhood obesity prevention. We will continue to convene our hard working and passionate partners striving to ensure healthier futures for our kids. We will continue to communicate to our network the news, research, strategies and opportunities that can aid their work. Finally, we will continue to collaborate; identifying opportunities where CLOCC’s voice and resources can assist in addressing social determinants of obesity and improve opportunities for our children to live healthy and active lives.

The coming year will assuredly hold many challenges for those working in public health, but the CLOCC staff is driven by the tenacity and passion of our partners. We are eager to meet these challenges with you, and we wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Exploring New Frontiers in Childhood Obesity Prevention

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

In 2017, CLOCC marked 15 years of collaborative learning and action to advance childhood obesity prevention in Chicago. We celebrated many successes, but we also learned that our battle has not yet been won. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine uses pooled height and weight data from five nationally-representative longitudinal studies, with 176,720 observations from 41,567 children and adults and simulated growth trajectories across the life course. The study predicts that 57.3% of today’s children will be obese at age 35 and that half of the projected prevalence will occur during childhood. So, while current data suggests that rates are leveling off for children in general and declining among lower-income 2-4 year olds, the broad view of childhood obesity is still an alarming one.

Furthermore, we know that racial and ethnic disparities exist and are propagated by inequitable distribution of health-protecting and health-damaging environmental conditions where children live, learn, and play. In my keynote address to attendees at our December 2017 Quarterly Meeting, I shared these and other data showing how serious the childhood obesity epidemic continues to be. I presented summaries of Quarterly Meeting discussions, beginning in June 2016, in which together we identified strategies needed in CLOCC’s Blueprint areas to maintain our obesity-prevention momentum in Chicago. I reiterated our commitment as a consortium to advancing health equity as we continue to protect Chicago children from the devastating effects of early obesity.

A framework for advancing a health equity agenda, written by Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika’s and published by the New York Academy of Medicine in 2017, provides us with a high-level action plan of sorts that CLOCC’s leadership believes will move us forward. Dr. Kumanyika proposes four major categories of action: increase healthy options, reduce deterrents to healthy behaviors, build community capacity, and improve social and economic resources for individuals and families. If we take stock of CLOCC’s collective efforts and reflect back on that summary of our quarterly meeting discussions, we can be confident and proud that we have implemented myriad strategies to increase healthy options in Chicago. Together, we have improved access to healthy foods and beverages through farmers markets, corner stores, and machine vending.  We continue to support a robust health and wellness initiative across Chicago Public Schools. We are working at the city and neighborhood levels to support active transportation policies and environmental change. We also had a major victory in 2014, when we helped the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services improve nutrition and physical activity in licensed childcare through new, evidence-based licensing requirements.

One of the challenges we recognize is that these successes are somewhat limited in scope and scale. In other words, while advances have been made, they aren’t necessarily being implemented equitably or sufficiently in all of the areas in Chicago where they are needed. So, there is work to be done – even in ongoing interventions. We’ve also put tremendous collective effort into building community capacity across Chicago. We have trained thousands of staff from community-based organizations to integrate 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® and fiveSMART® into their programming. We have shared innovative models for improving food access and linked consortium partners with this expertise to those who have an interest in learning. We have trained and supported community-based organizations to engage residents and audit streets and sidewalks for obstacles to walking and biking, and to utilize that audit data to push for change. We have helped our partners increase evaluation capacity and given childcare providers a fun and easy curriculum to teach young children about 5-4-3-2-1 Go!. And just having an opportunity once a quarter when a hundred-or-so CLOCC partners can be in the same room, learning together, networking, sharing information has increased capacity for obesity prevention across the city.

Unfortunately, we’re not doing nearly as well in reducing deterrents to healthy behaviors. While we have begun to confront the aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids (and their caregivers) and we have seen healthy vending initiatives work to equalize price differentials between healthy and unhealthy foods, we still have a long way to go in these areas. We fought hard but ultimately missed an opportunity to make sweetened beverages a little more expensive through the repealed Cook County sweetened beverage tax; Efforts to pass a similar tax at the state level ultimately died as well. While we have explored key deterrents to healthy behaviors such as violence and threats to personal safety, and emotional health challenges like depression and anxiety, we have yet to lay out a clear direction as a consortium for addressing these and other factors that sometimes feel like they’re taking us out of our missions and areas of expertise. Dr. Kumanyika’s framework reminds us that we must continue to figure out how we will help reduce these significant obstacles that people in communities hardest-hit by the obesity epidemic confront every day. Her framework also pushes us in even more challenging directions with the fourth category of action: improve social and economic resources.

In December’s keynote presentation, I shared with the Consortium the preliminary work undertaken by CLOCC staff and the Executive Committee to explore four broad areas of social determinants and root causes of obesity: racism and immigration; segregation, poverty, and education; built environment deficiencies and the forces of gentrification that often accompany large-scale improvements; and violence, trauma, and stress. While these deeply-entrenched social problems may be shuffled and regrouped by others who are leading the way in thought and action, these categories helped us to explore the evidence about their links to health and obesity, identify the resources we have at our disposal as a consortium to lend our voice to their solutions, and begin to lay out “CLOCC-appropriate” pathways to get involved.

I truly believe that tackling these deterrents to healthy behaviors and improvements in social and economic resources is the “new frontier” for obesity prevention for us here in Chicago. Many CLOCC partners have been hard at work for many years and have developed significant expertise in addressing some of these issues that may, initially, seem to be quite removed from obesity prevention. We look forward to working with these partners to understand how an obesity prevention consortium can add fuel to the fire. It is our hope that in the near future we can share what we learn and we encourage those of you with ideas already in mind to share those ideas. The structures and processes that have been at the core of CLOCC’s activities for 15 years may evolve as we expand our worldview and our strategic approach may change – maybe even dramatically. I believe, however, that if we are to avoid the predicted statistic –  that 57.3% of today’s children will be obese at 35 – then serious transformation in what we do and how we do it is imperative. We hope you will all join CLOCC staff and leadership as we explore this new and exciting frontier.

Moving Forward with the Fight: Looking Ahead to 2018

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

Reflecting on CLOCC’s 15th year, it was a whirlwind of successes AdamBeckerFinalforWeband challenges for the field of childhood obesity prevention and for all those who fight for our children’s healthy futures. In 2017, both political discourse and administrative actions (or inactions!) were enough to overwhelm any public health advocate. Yet, here in Chicago, our obesity prevention community stayed the course, fighting for the improvements in our neighborhoods, institutions, and local and state policies that help kids to lead active and healthy lives.  

As our consortium continues to make progress in healthy lifestyle education, environmental change, and local and statewide advocacy, we have the opportunity to look further “upstream” to some of the more fundamental root causes of obesity in an effort to identify the next wave of obesity prevention strategies. This opportunity coincides with heightened local and national attention to health equity and social determinants of health such as immigration, education, poverty and racism. All of these deeply debated social constructs have an impact on health and on people’s ability to eat healthy and be active where they live, work, learn, and play. CLOCC staff and leadership groups (the Executive Committee and External Advisory Board) have been discussing strategies we might deploy to help us as a collective consider how we can expand our obesity prevention focus to include these important factors. We know that many of you already concentrate on solving some of these critical public health issues and we are excited to work with both new and existing partners to understand and explore how these social determinants of health and obesity can be identified and addressed at all levels. 

As we look to the future, I would also like to reflect on our Consortium’s recent accomplishments. I draw strength and inspiration from the progress that we have made together and I hope you will as well. As always, CLOCC staff is humbled and proud of all we have done together in the past 15 years. Here are just a few of the things we accomplished together in 2017:   

  • CLOCC launched the Serve Chicago Kids Better campaign to address the lack of healthy options in local restaurant kids’ meals. Fact sheets and tools were developed to highlight the scope of the issue and local parents formed an advisory group. On September 6th, a resolution (R2017-729) was introduced in City Council calling for a subject matter hearing in the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, intended to elevate the discussion around restaurant kids’ meals and explore policy options to make them healthier. So far, 10 Council members have agreed to sign on with additional commitments to circulate to members of the Black Caucus, Latino Caucus and Progressive Caucus.       
  • The Healthy Corner Store component of the Healthy HotSpot initiative, supported by the Partnerships to Improve Community Health project, achieved its goal of recruiting and maintaining 25 healthy corner stores, making fresh fruits, vegetables and additional food items available in communities with limited or no access to full-service grocery stores. CLOCC staff and partners conducted 18 in-store healthy food tastings, six community trainings, and in-store trainings on promotion, marketing, and value-added products (e.g., making smoothies from fruits and vegetables). Relationships with several of the participating healthy corners stores are continuing as part of the Consortium’s work to improve distribution of healthy, affordable, high quality produce in stores throughout Chicagoland. In Chicago, the recently established Chicago Healthy Corner Store Network, including CLOCC and partners Inter-City Muslim Action Network and the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion, is exploring ways to extend produce distribution to healthy corner stores in the city.
  • The Consortium’s +Network, coordinated by CLOCC staff, worked closely with Chicago Public Schools, guiding 15 schools to achieve 11 new criteria under the Healthy CPS standards and sustaining an additional 32 criteria across the group. The most common LearnWELL criteria that schools were able to achieve were: Nutrition Education, Recess, and Healthy Celebrations. The School Leadership criteria was achieved in eight schools and will continue to be a main focus of the work during the 2017-2018 school year. The success of the +Network has motivated CPS to generate similar networks to support the other badges of Healthy CPS, including Chronic Disease and Sexual Health.
  • CLOCC staff introduced an updated Neighborhood Walkability Assessment Tool (NWAT) in 2016, and this past year CLOCC partners took it to the streets as a component of multiple Neighborhood Walkability Initiatives. Led by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), Chinatown residents were able to document the challenges and opportunities within the pedestrian infrastructure of their community, resulting in more than 90 block and intersection assessments which have been uploaded, analyzed and have draft results available. CLOCC-led walkability assessment trainings have also been incorporated as a key tactic within comprehensive neighborhood health evaluations in Little Village and Rogers Park, and future walkability work is slated to take place in Riverdale.
  • CLOCC staff continues to support hospitals working to achieve Baby Friendly status. In February, Rush University Medical Center became Chicago’s fourth – and largest – labor and delivery center to earn the designation. As of this writing, six Chicago hospitals are in the fourth and final phase of the Baby-Friendly pathway.
  • Late in 2017, CLOCC kicked off planning for Chicago Activating Neighborhood Environments for Health and Wellness (Chicago ANEHW), which will continue into September 2019. Focused around Chicago parks in three distinct regions of the City, this project aims to improve healthy, active living through educational and environmental interventions
  • Our Physical Activity and Built Environment Interest Group held a successful pilot event to help community residents and organizations make and build on connections between physical activity and the built environment. Held in Rogers Park, this inaugural event was attended by more than 40 adults and 80 children. Participating city-wide partners included PlayStreets, Chicago Bike Ambassadors, Active Transportation Alliance, and the Chicago Park District. One of the outcomes of this event was the development of a community agenda for increasing physical activity in Rogers Park being led by Howard Area Community Center.

An exciting year had a fitting exclamation point in the celebration of CLOCC’s 15th Anniversary at the Consortium’s Winter Quarterly Meeting on December 7. We were especially grateful for those who submitted nominees for the CLOCC 15th Anniversary Childhood Obesity Prevention Hall of Fame, for the partners who developed posters and joined us in person to showcase their recent and ongoing obesity-prevention work, and for those were on hand at the meeting to help open the cover on the next chapters of the Consortium’s obesity-prevention journey.

We enter 2018 with renewed vigor and a great deal of optimism that, together, we can ensure the children of Chicago and beyond will enjoy a healthy future and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Adam B. Becker, PhD, MPH
Executive Director

A New Year’s Message From CLOCC Executive Director Adam Becker, PhD, MPH

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH 
Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

As we stand on the eve of CLOCC’s 15th year, it is a good time to AdamBeckerFinalforWebreflect on the myriad accomplishments of our Consortium. If the best predictor of the future is the past, then I am confident that, together, our public health community will rise to meet the challenges we may face in 2017.

Over the past year, our partners have tirelessly and passionately fought to increase opportunities for all children in Chicago to have healthy and active lives. We have continued to advocate for environments that support healthy eating and active living where children live, learn, and play. We also continue to educate Chicagoans using our evidence-based healthy lifestyle messages: 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® and fiveSMART™. Health equity has been a centerpiece of these efforts. While much remains to be done, and the shifting political landscape leaves us guessing to some extent as to where our energies will be needed most in the near future, it is important and humbling to consider all that we have achieved together:

  • From the Council chamber of the Cook County building to the Senate floor in Springfield, our partners were advocacy all-stars in 2017, advocating on behalf of children and families across the city and state. After several years of attempts, the Healthy Local Foods Incentives fund – which would double the value of SNAP dollars at local farmers’ markets – rode a wave of support and sailed through the Illinois House and Senate. Governor Rauner issued an amendatory veto but, ultimately, the legislation received a second round of support and passed the House and Senate in November without opposition. As the New Year arrives, we await the conclusion of this bill’s journey and eagerly anticipate the Governor’s signature.
  • The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) proposal, which would levy a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), remains on the radar of Illinois legislators as a viable source of revenue to support critical health and public health services and programs. It seems we may be near the national tipping point as more communities across the country consider or have already passed similar taxes. Advocates and leaders in Cook County should take great pride in becoming the largest U.S. jurisdiction to approve a sweetened-beverage tax, with a small portion of the revenues going to chronic disease prevention.
  • CLOCC continues to support hospitals working to achieve Baby Friendly status and we celebrated this year as Advocate Illinois Masonic became the third Chicago labor and delivery center to earn the prestigious designation. Baby Friendly Hospitals build our city’s capacity for supporting breastfeeding from the moment of delivery, and an additional 11 hospitals in the City are currently in the Baby Friendly pathway to designation.
  • Efforts to support organizations and communities outside of the city limits continued with the expansion of the PICH-funded healthy corner store initiative in suburban Cook County. In corner stores throughout the region, the Cook County Health Department’s “Healthy Hot Spot” brand can be found pointing the way to fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy items in these small but important retail environments in communities that face healthy food access challenges. A geo-targeted mobile ad campaign and cooking demonstrations help build awareness among local residents about their nearby stores.
  • CLOCC’s work within school systems moved into high gear with the re-introduction of the Food and Fitness Partner Network, a collection of health and wellness partners that support public schools to meet the requirements of the health and wellness policies at Chicago Public Schools. CLOCC now convenes this network on behalf of CPS and out of the network has emerged the “Plus Network.” This subset of food and fitness partners will support the schools they’re in as an overall school wellness partner, helping schools to meet their wellness goals and linking schools to other partners as needed. The Plus Network comes online in the new year.
  • Built environment is often in the headlines with the steady img_5234and welcome addition of new parks and path systems throughout the City. In June, CLOCC reintroduced an enhanced Neighborhood Walkability Initiative (NWI) to help community organizations assess their surroundings and advocate for change where needed. A revised tool now includes indicators and strategies related to crime, violence, and safety as factors that contribute to or detract from community-level physical activity. CLOCC will be training and engaging community-based organization partners to participate in the NWI in 2017.

Through attendance at quarterly meetings, food access workshops, 5-4-3-2-1 Go!® and fiveSMART™ trainings, in answering advocacy calls and participating in the annual Blueprint Survey, our Consortium family continuously demonstrates a passion for changing the course of childhood obesity in Chicago. On behalf of CLOCC staff, I express our gratitude for your efforts to ensure that all children in Chicago and beyond can enjoy a healthy future and reach their full potential.

We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

New Perspectives on Childhood Obesity Trends Emphasize Importance of Prevention Efforts

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH, Executive Director, and Maryann Mason, PhD, Community and Evaluation Research Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

Current trends in childhood obesity have been in the news lately. In 2014, the CDC issued a report, based on research from its National Center for Health Statistics, concluding that obesity prevalence was leveling off for most kids and even declining for the youngest age group.   You may have heard people saying that obesity rates had plateaued. A number of cities and communities were highlighted as having downward trends in childhood obesity and it was assumed that these local trends were contributing to the plateau at the national level.  Here in Chicago, CLOCC reported a downward trend from 2003-2004 to 2009-2010 among children entering school. Chicago Public School data from 2011-2012 and 2013-14, analyzed and published by CDPH, has confirmed the slight, but significant, downward trend.

However, this April, an article appeared in the journal Obesity stating that previously-documented downward national trends were overstated and that “there is no evidence of a decline in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue.” So, what to make of this discrepancy? It goes back to the length of time referenced in the comparisons.   When we look at obesity rates over time, the longer time frame we examine, the more the trend comes in to focus. As pointed out in a recent Washington Post article “when you start earlier, the narrative changes considerably.”  Longer time periods help us put variations into perspective.  For example, the more years of data we have, the easier it is to spot outliers – rates that are significantly higher or lower than years before and after them. 

CLOCC’s findings of a downward trend were based on five-year’s worth of data. This gives us reason for cautious optimism. The more recent CPS/CDPH prevalence reports took a year-by-year look at rates.  We are a bit more cautious in interpreting these findings. 

So, what does this most recent finding of no significant decline in childhood obesity at the national level mean for our work locally and nationally?   These data indicate that we are in a period of fluctuation where year-to-year, the obesity rates may rise or may fall.   This follows a three-decade period where the rate consistently rose. So, this disruption in consistent increases is good news in the sense that the upward trend has been interrupted with intervals where the rates may be declining. But the longer the timeframe, the more clear the picture is painted in terms of the overall trend. Taking the longer view, it appears that, nationally, the downward trends reported may not be enduring. What’s further, there has been much evidence to suggest that disparities in childhood obesity and increases in the numbers of children who are severely obese persist.

We have work to do as a nation to combat this epidemic. Locally, we don’t yet have the ability to look at long-term trends, but as CPS and CDPH continue to analyze and publish childhood obesity data, we may soon be able to create a broad view of long-term trends. Until that point, we must continue to work hard to ensure that children, their families and communities have the resources, access, knowledge, and support they need to eat healthy and be physically active where they live, learn and play. National fluctuations and local indications that rates may be leveling off or coming down should encourage us to aggressively use the evidence base in efforts to improve environments and services, increase resources devoted to obesity prevention and to continue the education and support of children and families. Following that course, we endeavor to establish a downward trend in all children that will hold over the longer term.





World Cancer Day a Reminder that Prevention is an Everyday Concern

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By Adam Becker, PhD, MPH, Executive Director, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children

On January 28th, President Obama released a memorandum AdamBeckerFinalforWebcalling for the creation of the “White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force.” In it he states, “It is of critical national importance that we accelerate progress towards prevention, treatment, and a cure….” At CLOCC we believe that prevention should be a top priority. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network states ( that “The science is clear – being overweight or obese is the number one cancer risk for people who don’t use tobacco. In fact, one in four cancer cases in the U.S. are from poor diet, physical inactivity, being overweight and obesity.” Today, World Cancer Day, we celebrate all of the hard work of CLOCC partners to ensure that children and families can eat healthy and be physically active where they live, work, learn, and play. Our Blueprint for Accelerating Progress in Childhood Obesity in Chicago: The Next Decade lays out goals and objectives for preventing obesity in Chicago and describes numerous strategies that can help us as a community to reach them. As we think about this devastating disease, the many lives lost and the many who have struggled to overcome, we commend the President for reminding us and re-focusing us on this key public health problem. We at CLOCC remind all of you that your work to prevent obesity is, in fact, cancer prevention. We look forward to continued collaboration and to success at the national and local levels in conquering this formidable foe.

Resources about the relationship between cancer and obesity can be found here:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Cancer Society – Cancer Action Network
National Cancer Institute




A New Year’s Message from CLOCC’s Executive Director

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Dear CLOCC Partners –

As we enjoy the holiday season and prepare to greet a new year, it is also a perfect time to reflect on our accomplishments and begin planning for the work ahead. While we have a lot to be proud of as a consortium this year, we still have important goals for 2016 to ensure that the City’s future generations are empowered to enjoy equitable access to healthy food, that families have safe places to be active, and that our public policy consistently promotes a culture of health and well-being. These are tall tasks, but one thing we can certainly celebrate is our collective strength as a network of engaged partners. The work we have done together over the last year has put us in a position to make great strides in 2016.     

• The Consortium was in high gear from the onset of 2015. In February, we debuted an entirely new website, featuring a colorful layout with an improved structure that makes this important resource easier to navigate. In tandem with the website launch, we upgraded our electronic membership database and our meeting platform to better serve our partners and to improve the way we communicate with all of you.

• In February and March, the Consortium made its voice Summer Foodsheard during Illinois’ legislative session, successfully fighting to preserve the State’s physical education requirements for schools, while simultaneously lobbying for improved access to healthy foods using SNAP and WIC benefits. Additionally, as the Healthy Eating and Active Living Act was introduced, CLOCC worked to educate and inform our partners about the harmful effects of sugar and the benefits of strategies to reduce consumption by increasing the price of sugar-sweetened beverages; the most significant source of excess calories in children’s diets. In September, we introduced our 2016-2020 Policy Agenda which will steer the Consortium’s policy and advocacy work for the next five years.    

• In the spring, with summer around the corner, we explored together the impact on children’s health of the reduction in structured activities and opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity that can occur when schools finish the academic year and our partners shared information about opportunities to keep youth engaged in this challenging part of the year. CLOCC provided training to the staff of summer food programs and Play Streets to strengthen their efforts to reduce the negative impact that un-structured summers can have on children’s health.

• This year we continued our efforts to support organizations and communities outside of the city limits. We concluded an 18-month project to support networks in Chicago Heights, Cicero, and Maywood to strengthen their efforts to address nutrition and physical activity and we began managing a healthy corner store initiative in suburban Cook County to advance the county’s Healthy Hot Spot campaign.

• CLOCC staff continued to support hospitals working toward Baby Friendly Designation, ensuring that new mothers have access to environments that support breastfeeding from the moment of delivery. Two hospitals have now undergone site visits – the final stage in certification – and we are hopeful that both will receive designation in 2016. In total, seven hospitals are now in Phase 4, five hospitals are in Phase 3, one hospital is in Phase 2 and one hospital is in Phase 1.

• This year, our health educator held more than 20 5-4-3-2-1 Go! trainings throughout Chicago, attended by more than 350 teachers, nutrition experts and other community leaders, in order to help spread CLOCC’s key healthy-lifestyle messaging. At the year’s final Quarterly Meeting, we also introduced a new 5-4-3-2-1 Go! poster for early childhood that will appeal to younger audiences.

• Finally, the introduction of “Five SMART,” CLOCC’s new healthy lifestyle message for 0-3, as well as an early-childhood curriculum for 5-4-3-2-1 Go!, will provide opportunities for the network to increase our emphasis on health and wellness for the youngest and most vulnerable children.     

Progress in our efforts to prevent childhood obesity can only happen with the passionate efforts of educators, public health advocates, researchers, legislative leaders and all of those who serve as role models for the next generation. On behalf of CLOCC, thank you for your commitment to ensure that all children in Chicago and beyond can enjoy a healthy future and reach their full potential. We wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!
Adam B. Becker, PhD, MPH
CLOCC Executive Director