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This series looks at how local, state and educational policies affect the neighborhood – everything from City Council representation to childhood obesity.

How Do We Make Austin's Overweight Kids Healthy Again?

University of Texas grad students created this map to look at the prevelance of unhealthy food choices in the Dove Springs neighborhood, which has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city.

Childhood obesity is one of those extremely complicated issues that is affected by many interrelated factors like family income, where you live, and your level of education.  Anannual study that looks at obesity rates across America says Texas has the 7th highest rate of childhood obesity in the country. 

As we've reported in thepast,the southeast Austin neighborhood of Dove Springs has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city.

A group of University of Texas grad students studying the relationship between public health and the physical environment took a closer look at why. Their findings will be presented at a city forum on Childhood Obesity happening tonight at the Millennium Youth Complex. The forum includes several municipal  leaders who will talk about ways the city can trim the childhood obesity rate in Austin.

KUT News has already obtained a copy of the presentation, which you can view here. The analysis uses data from Children's Optimal Health to create visually interesting maps that demonstrate some of the challenges of combating obesity in Dove Springs.

For example, the students created an inventory of all the places that sell food in the neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority were fast food.

The students also looked at land use, transportation, and recreation opportunities.

The study includes interesting quotes from people in the neighborhood about their opinions on local resources.

“We need less greasy places to eat. Reduce the number of fast food restaurants. I would like to see more healthy organic and vegetarian places to eat, like the one on Chicon (Mr. Natural). They know how to make healthy food taste good!” -Dove Springs resident and middle school student “We wish we could have a safer park system, during the day it is ok, but once it starts to get darker we get scared. So it limits us the use of this places. More bike lanes for our kids. They all have bikes but they don´t use them.” -Dove Springs resident and mother

"There's a lot of different ways to attack the problem, and of course, we're going to be looking towards our boards and commissioners and everyone at the table to come up with new ones," City Council Member Laura Morrison told KUT News. Morrison is hosting the 2010 Childhood Obesity Forum.

"Our Health and Human Services Department is working on a project that we hope to build upon. They've been reaching out to stakeholders and trying to get specific ideas on how do we make, for instance, fresh food accessible to more folks," Morrison said.

Today's forum is open to the public and runs from 3 pm until 7 pm at 1101 Hargrave. You can read the agenda for the meeting here.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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