Dr. oz

Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

April 9, 2012; Source: Sacramento Bee

TV talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michelle Bouchard have developed a national nonprofit, HealthCorps, to help curb the childhood obesity problem in Sacramento, and hopefully across the country. The nonprofit is modeled after the Peace Corps and “consists of young adults—future doctors and public health workers—who will work with schools to develop programs that fit the community,” the Sacramento Bee reports.

The idea for HealthCorps came after Oz performed triple bypass surgery on a 22-year-old man who rejoiced by consuming a post-surgery meal of McDonald’s hamburger and French fries while sitting in his hospital bed. It was then that the famous television doctor realized that “something had to be done or he would be seeing more and more young people with heart disease or in the morgue,” says Bouchard, a longtime friend of Oz and a former Oz weight loss “success story.”

With a budget of $8 million, HealthCorps is financed through corporate and individual donations. Programs focus on physical and mental health, nutritious diets and community development. The curriculum includes health education and activities such as starting a community garden and working out.

According to school physical fitness tests, almost half of Sacramento County’s fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders weigh more than is considered healthy. Approximately 28 percent of students in those young grades have body compositions putting them at “high risk” for future health problems. The issues that have been identified in Sacramento are not far off from what is happening nationwide. According to a study in the journal Health Affairs, the cost of U.S. hospitalizations related to childhood obesity rose from $125.9 million in 2001 to almost $237.6 million four years later.

The fight to decrease obesity in our country is relatively new, and changing the actions and attitudes of youth can be difficult depending on the family culture of each individual and the underlying psychological reasons that spur some to eat what they do. Additionally, poverty and lack of access to healthy food exacerbates the obesity epidemic. Most experts agree that fighting childhood obesity cannot be limited to school programming, but must be accompanied by investments in individual skill development and community overhauls, including the construction of safe sidewalks, bike paths and parks, and the development of affordable fresh food marketplaces—the latter having been difficult to attract and retain in many urban “food deserts.” Do you think the Peace Corps model is a promising one in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic?–Saras Chung