Less soda. More “onion.”

That’s a good recipe for reducing and preventing obesity, particularly among children. And it’s being prepared by a legion of students and faculty conducting research and outreach efforts throughout the California State University.

As described by Ann McDermott, who directs the STRIDE programs at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the “onion” is a layered—and integrated and comprehensive—socioecological model for approaching the wide range of factors that contribute to excessive weight. In the model, the individual is in the center, surrounded by layers that represent an expanding series of major influences. They range from “interpersonal” ones close to the core, such as family and friends, to the organizational, community, and public-policy realms farther out.

“We’re addressing each layer of the onion,” said McDermott of STRIDE, which stands for Science through Translational Research in Diet and Exercise.

 

(Click here for an overview of obesity work in the CSU, including stem-cell research on fat production, vertical gardens on playgrounds, and briefing Michelle Obama. More resources are below.)

“At every level, we need to support healthy behavior,” McDermott said. “Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice.” For example, she envisions a fast-food counter where fruit and low-fat milk are showcased as the norm, replacing French fries and soda.

About that soda: According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), someone who drinks a 12-ounce soda every day adds 2.5 pounds of sugar to their diet in a month – or 30 pounds in a year. Just by replacing sodas with water or other zero-calorie drinks, and making no other changes in activity or diet, that “someone” – the NIH estimates – will lose more than a pound a month.

The STRIDE Center uses a suite of programs to address weight issues for individuals of various ages, cultures, and circumstances. How can you design interventions to make a difference? “The key is research,” said McDermott. “Learn why people do what they do before developing programs to help them.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, 34 percent of Americans age 20 and older are obese and another 34 percent are overweight; and nearly 20 percent of youths ages 6 to 19 in the U.S. are obese, triple the rate of a generation ago.