Shape Up Somerville – Christina D. Economos and Obesity

A fascinating news report on preventing obesity made the rounds a couple of weeks ago. It featured a program called Shape Up Sommerville headed up by Tufts Assistant Professor Christina D. Economos. The program focused on impacting obesity causes among first, second and third grade children in the city ofSommerville, Massachusetts.

The program’s goals are to use community based actions as intervention to prevent childhood obesity. It’s primarily funded by a CDC grant and a host of special interest groups.

The program is unusual for three main reasons:

  1. It focuses on the community the children live in. Many program focus on only one aspect of a child’s life such as school, home or food. This program focused on everything.
  2. It included feedback from the children. Many times professionals dictate to children what is best for them without soliciting input. This program allowed kids to give feedback through fruit and vegetable taste testing at school.
  3. Restaurants were engaged. This is a key component missing from most programs, which attempt to ignore the fact many kids are taken out to eat. Through the Shape Up Approved lableing program, restaurants could offer menu choices that meant the goal of the program.


The study ran from 2003-2006 and according to press reports was a success. If you look into more details the study wasn’t a success so much in weight loss, but in instilling attitudes for healthy eating. By focusing on children while they are developing and imparting these skills you can stave off obesity.

People will look at the results and chuckle that the kids on the program gained a half pound more than their counterparts in neighboring communities not on the program. I don’t think that’s what you need to focus on. As Christina Economos related in an interview with Scientific America:

“There are lots of communities around the country attempting to make changes and what this study tells us is they should persevere. Small changes can have a significant impact on children’s weight.”