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Mental Health Month

America’s Children in Peril: Solving the Obesity and Mental Health Epidemics (Part 1)

Date and time
Thursday, January 20, 2011

The foundation for a healthy adulthood is a healthy childhood. Despite our prosperity, growing numbers of American children are plagued with two chronic and intractable health challenges: obesity and compromised mental health. Nearly one third of children in the U.S. are overweight and more than half of this group is obese. In addition to the increased medical problems associated with being overweight, these children and adolescents suffer from a higher prevalence of psychological problems resulting in poor academic performance, low self-esteem, depressive disorders, and a greater number of suicide attempts. Moreover, approximately 15 million children and adolescents in the U.S. have a mental health problem that impairs their functioning at home or at school, but less than 25% receive treatment. Innovative strategies including coordinated efforts among healthcare providers, schools, academic and research institutions, federal agencies, funders and policy makers are urgently needed to reverse these alarming trends in child and adolescent health. Through this forum, a panel of experts in the field, policy-makers, and national leaders tackle these epidemics and offer cutting edge solutions to ameliorate them.

Bernadette Melnyk is Dean and Distinguished Foundation Professor in Nursing at Arizona State University College of Nursing & Health Innovation. Dr. Melnyk is an internationally recognized expert in theory-based intervention research and evidence-based practice as well as in child and adolescent mental health. She has worked with numerous healthcare systems throughout the nation and globe to advance and sustain evidence-based practice. Dr. Melnyk’s record of extramural research and educational funding, including grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, and HRSA totals more than $11 million. Through a series of nine randomized controlled trials, she has supported the efficacy of her COPE intervention program in improving the outcomes of critically ill/hospitalized children and premature infants and parents, which has been adopted by hospitals and insurers throughout the U.S. Her current NIH-funded RO1 grant is a randomized controlled trial testing the efficacy of her COPE/Healthy Lifestyles TEEN program to prevent overweight/obesity and depression in 800 culturally diverse teenagers in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Melnyk’s record of scholarship includes over 150 publications, two books, and numerous distinguished awards for her contributions to improving children’s health, nursing and healthcare.
Born to a poor immigrant family in New York City, Richard Carmona experienced homelessness, hunger, and health disparities during his youth. The experiences greatly sensitized him to the relationships among culture, health, education and economic status and ultimately shaped his future. After dropping out of high school, Dr. Carmona enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967. By the time he left active duty, he was a Special Forces, combat-decorated Vietnam veteran. He then attended college, followed by medical school at the University of California – San Francisco, where he won the prestigious Gold Cane award. Dr. Carmona became a surgeon with a sub-specialty in trauma, burns and critical care and was recruited to Tucson to establish the first trauma system in southern Arizona which he did successfully. Later, while working full time as a hospital and health system CEO, he earned a master’s degree in public health policy and administration at the University of Arizona. In 2002 Dr. Carmona was nominated by the president and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate to become the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. After completing his statutory four-year term as Surgeon General in 2006, Dr. Carmona joined Tucson-based Canyon Ranch as vice chairman. He is president of the non-profit Canyon Ranch Institute and Distinguished Professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.
Madelyn Clark is a vibrant 17-year-old from Mechanicsville, Virginia. She is a member of the Youth Advisory Board to the Alliance for a New Generation’s empowerME initiative. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to fight one of the nation's leading health threats – childhood obesity. EmpowerME gives young people tools to make healthy changes in their own lives, their schools and their communities. Clark is one of 25 youth selected after a national search for talented and motivated young people who can give feedback on the Alliances Kids’ movement programs and strategies, and generate new ideas to make healthy living the norm, not the exception. In her home community, Clark serves on the Hanover Youth Service Council. The Hanover Youth Service Council is made up of middle and high school students who conduct service projects in the community which have included a countywide school supplies drive for elementary school students in need and assisting with activities for disabled adults. She also serves on the Hanover Youth Perspective which is an organization of board-appointed middle and high school students that provides youth a more formal role in the county's planning and development process and an outlet to voice issues important to them, including plans of new parks, schools and libraries with the Hanover Planning Commission. In the summer, Clark uses her Red Cross lifeguard certification at Kings Dominion Theme Park and also participates in the junior volunteer program at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital. She is planning a career in the healthcare profession.
Peter S. Jensen, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Chair, Division of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic. Concurrent with this position, Dr. Jensen serves as President & CEO of the REACH Institute (Resource for Advancing Children’s Health), a federally chartered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to disseminating evidence-based interventions for child & adolescent mental health. Prior to these current duties, Dr. Jensen was the Ruane Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and founding Director of the Center for the Advancement of Children’s Mental Health at Columbia University in New York (1999-2007), and Associate Director for Child & Adolescent Mental Disorders Research, National Institute of Mental Health (1989-1999). Dr. Jensen is the author of nearly 300 peer-reviewed articles and chapters and 20 books, and has received awards for his teaching and research from many national organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the Society for Child Psychiatric Nursing, NAMI, and CHADD. His research focuses principally on the testing of optimal methods for encouraging and assisting healthcare and educational professionals to apply evidence-based interventions for improving children’s mental health.
As Senior Writer in the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation, Joanne Kenen runs a blog focusing on the intersection between health policy and health politics. She also writes for both the foundation’s Web site and outside publications on the health reform challenges—coverage, cost, and quality—facing the next administration. Ms. Kenen is a journalist and author who spent more than a decade covering health policy on Capitol Hill. A longtime Reuters correspondent in New York, Florida/the Caribbean, and Washington, she has covered everything from voodoo festivals to U.S. presidential campaigns. As a freelance writer with an eclectic reach, she has contributed both policy and consumer-oriented articles to numerous newspapers, Web sites, and magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly, Washingtonian, The Washington Post, Stateline.org, AARP, American Prospect, CURE and Parenting. As a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow in 2006–07, Ms. Kenen wrote extensively about palliative medicine, the evolution of hospice care, and changes in medical education. A graduate of Radcliffe College at Harvard University, she also reported from Central America earlier in her career and was the recipient of an Inter-American Press Association fellowship to write about the development of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Marie Morilus-Black is currently the Director of Child and Youth Services for the District of Columbia. Previously, Morilus-Black was the Director of Family Voices Network of Erie County, the children’s division of the Department of Mental Health of Erie County, Buffalo, New York where she successfully ran and sustained a System of Care Grant. She obtained her Master of Social Work at the University of New York at Buffalo. She has been in the field of Human Services for almost 20 years. She is an expert in the field of Child Welfare and Mental Health and is very knowledgeable of the Juvenile Justice System. She is responsible for managing and implementing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrative (SAMHSA) grant of $9.5 million dollars over six years for the Erie County Department of Mental Health, which works in collaboration with the Department of Social Services and Juvenile Justice Probation of Erie County. Most recently, Marie Morilus-Black published a peer reviewed article in the Community Mental Health Journal entitled “Social Supports for Youth and Families.” Morilus-Black has conducted numerous workshops on issues impacting children and families involved in the multiple systems cited above both, locally and nationally. For the last couple of years, she has presented and served as a facilitator at the SAMHSA New System of Care Communities Orientation Meeting. She has served as faculty member at both The Annual Conference of the Research and Training Center for Children’s Mental Health the Human Services host by University of South Florida and the Bi-annual Training Institute held by The National Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health at the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development with a focus on local systems of care for children, adolescents, and young adults with or at risk for mental health challenges and their families. Marie is also known for her work in utilizing data to improve practice, particularly in the area of clinical service delivery in a culturally and linguistically competent manner. This particular area of interest drove her study to become a Six Sigma Green Belt.
Pate is an exercise physiologist with interests in physical activity and physical fitness in children and the health implications of physical activity. He has published more than 230 scholarly papers and has authored or edited three books. His research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association, and several private foundations and corporations. He heads a research team that currently is supported by three grants from the National Institutes of Health. He coordinated the effort that lead to the development of the recommendation on Physical Activity and Public Health of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine (1995). He served on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (2003-04), the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee (2007-08), and an Institute of Medicine panel that developed guidelines on prevention of childhood obesity. He currently chairs the coordinating committee for the National Physical Activity Plan. Pate has served in several leadership positions with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and in 1993-94 served as that organization’s president. He is a past-president of the National Coalition on Promoting Physical Activity, and he is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education. In 1996 he received the Citation Award from the American College of Sports Medicine, and in 1999 he received the Alliance Scholar Award of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. A lifelong distance runner, Pate competed in three U.S. Olympic Trials marathons and twice placed among the top ten finishers in the Boston Marathon. For more than 20 years he served as president of the Carolina Marathon Association, which hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials: Women’s Marathon in both 1996 and 2000.
Prior to joining HRSA, Dr. Rhee was Director of the Office of Innovation and Program Coordination at the National Institutes of Health's National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Before that, he was Chief Medical Officer of Baltimore Medical System Inc., the largest network of Federally Qualified Health Centers in Maryland. In addition, Dr. Rhee served five years as a National Health Service Corps Scholar and Medical Director at the Upper Cardozo Health Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Rhee is board-certified in internal medicine and pediatrics. He received his medical degree from the University of Southern California and did his residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Rhee also holds a masters degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He received his Bachelor degree from Yale University in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.
Deborah Kotz has been a health reporter for nearly 20 years and wrote a cover story dealing with the obesity epidemic in children for US News & World Report. She recently moved to the Boston Globe, where she launched a new consumer health blog called Daily Dose that deals with news of the day with a Bostonian twist. Before joining the Boston Globe, Kotz was a senior writer for US News & World Report covering the FDA, health reform's impact on consumers, vaccinations and other topics. She also had a women's health blog. Kotz is a 1991 graduate of Cornell University, majoring in science journalism. She now splits her time between Boston and DC. She's regularly featured on WTOP.