Metroland News Service
August 22, 2012
A controversial Nike ad that endows “greatness” on a 200-pound preteen taking his first steps as a jogger is generating public interest in childhood obesity — an issue that a new research team at McMaster University is also taking on.
The MAC-Obesity Research Program, announced this week, targets fat in children with a team of doctors and researchers taking new approaches to an epidemic that has tripled the number of obese children in the past 25 years, leaving more than one in four overweight.
Nathan Sorrell, the 12-year-old jogger, who pants slowly down a country road in one of Nike’s Find Your Greatness ads for the Olympics, is a prototype, says pediatrician Dr. Katherine Morrison, an associate professor and co-director of the McMaster program.
“Nathan is at a point where ideally he should be in a treatment program,” said Morrison, a child obesity and lipid disorders specialist. “When we’re talking about prevention, we’re trying to change society. Trying to understand what Nathan’s pathway (to obesity) was is where we begin.”
Behaviour change is essential to fight obesity and the problems it can bring: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders and cancers. Only 7 per cent of Canadian children get the recommended 90 minutes of activity a day, said Dr. Gregory Steinberg, co-director with Morrison.
“And this isn’t going out for a run,” said Steinberg, associate professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology and metabolism, and a Canada Research Chair. “This is making forts, not structured physical activity. That’s a major factor in what we’re seeing.”
Nathan’s family is already making changes, the 5-foot-3 preteen has told local media. He and his mother are planning to lose weight with exercise and diet.
“Greatness is not some rare DNA strand,” says the voice-over in the Nike ad as the Ohio youth lumbers through his run. “We’re all capable of it.”
While the ad gets kudos for inspiration — and 1.2 million views on YouTube — some experts object to Nike’s approach, saying that putting on an expensive pair of running shoes and doing a bit of jogging don’t solve the problem.
“Nathan looks miserably uncomfortable, and as if he’s about to topple over,” David Katz, editor-in-chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, wrote in a widely reported email to Time magazine. “I would have preferred they showed his pursuit of greatness in a way that was not … so obviously impeded by his weight.”
Morrison said she likes the ad: “If achieving greatness requires overcoming obstacles, then that’s what the ad portrays, somebody trying to do that.”
Steinberg said childhood obesity will produce significant complications for the health system. Eighty per cent of those seen for weight management at McMaster Children’s Hospital, for example, are at risk of heart disease, and one in five has prediabetes.
“We can’t just keep telling people they should exercise more and eat less,” he added.
The more than 30 researchers and clinicians — blended together from McMaster’s existing research and clinical programs — are looking at such things as the impact of metabolism and the role of genetics. Startup funding includes $450,000 from Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation and $1 million from the university.