Chicago Group Tackles Childhood Obesity

Yoga and dance workshops for kids and parents at a museum. Free bike locks to encourage students to cycle to school. A food bank that offers fitness workouts along with hot meals for children.

These are among the projects encouraged by a two-year-old Chicago consortium tackling childhood obesity (search).

"The obesity epidemic is one of the defining public health challenges of the 21st century," said Dr. Matthew Longjohn, head of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (search). He believes the problem roup was praised by the American Medical Association as it begins a two-day obesity summit here Tuesday.

Housed at Children's Memorial Hospital, CLOCC funds a variety of obesity-fighting projects and research throughout the city. It's also an information-sharing network that has amassed nearly 700 partners citywide, including doctors, schools, museums, industry and charity groups that reach tens of thousands of children.

Under the consortium's influence, these groups have added an obesity-fighting focus to their programs.

The AMA, which is working on an obesity agenda, is taking a close look at the Chicago's group's efforts. The medical organization might recommend that doctos for low-income children.

Another partner, Chicago's Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum (search), enlisted CLOCC to help with a fitness festival earlier this year that drew more than 10,000 predominantly Hispanic families, said Longjohn, who is organizing a workshop to train Chicago schoolteachers in nutrition, obesity and diabetes issues.

The Chicago Children's Museum recently held dance and yoga workshops designed to get families more active, and its work with CLOCC has inspired plans for a permanent fitness-oriented exhibit expected to open by 2006, said the museum's Mark Saalfeld.

With about 500,000 visitors each year, the museum has seen plenty of overweight children. Collaborating with CLOCC, he said, "has helped our thinking about what our role is in terms of the healthy development of children."