Taming the obesity epidemic in this country needs an all-hands-on-deck strategy so that schools provide students 60 minutes of physical activity daily, fast-food restaurants offer healthier fare for kids, and communities build recreational spaces that encourage physical activity, says a new report.
This was a conclusion drawn from presentations at a recent conference at the Center for Disease Control. The conference was convened by the Institute of Medicine, which provides independent advice on health issues to policy makers, foundations and others.
U.S. government statistics show that currently 2/3 of all adults and 1/3 of all children are overweight or obese. Studies indicate that if present trends continue by 2030 42% of all adults in the U.S. will be obese, defined as being at least 30 pounds over a person’s optimum weight.
The illnesses and costs of obesity are known and it is no secret that such costs are spiraling. We read stories about this topic constantly. What may be noteworthy about this recent conference is the report that only a systematic, all-encompassing approach may be successful in reversing the current trend.
Here are five goals and some thoughts on how to reach them:
- Create an environment where choosing healthy foods and beverages is the obvious, easy option. This would require that fast food restaurants commit to making at least half of their food options for their kid meals comply with government dietary guidelines for moderately active 4 to 8 year olds. It would also require businesses, governments and others to reduce the availability of sugary drinks and to make clean, cold water more readily available to workers.
- Improve information delivery about diet and exercise. Food and beverage makers, restaurants and media outlets should within 2 years voluntarily adopt nutritionally-based standards for marketing their products to children and young adults. If this does not work, governments should be prepared to use their regulatory powers to bring about such advertising.
- Expand the role of employers, health care providers and insurance companies in promoting obesity prevention policies. Employers should make healthy foods available to employees and adopt policies that encourage employees to exercise during the workday. Health care providers and insurance companies should work to make preventative health screenings and advice more readily and affordably available.
- Make it easier for people to incorporate exercise into their daily lives. Governments and businesses should work together to make walking trails, biking paths, parks, playgrounds and community recreation centers more readily and safely available.
- Make schools a national focal point for obesity prevention. Among other things, kids in all grades should be required to engage in 45-60 minutes per day of physical exercise. It is probably no coincidence that our population has grown more obese as more and more schools have eliminated mandatory PE classes from the curriculum.
The United States was able to build an atomic bomb in just over three years during World War II. We put men on the moon within eight years of that goal being announced by President Kennedy. We virtually eliminated polio in about 15 years. All of these goals were achieved with a strong national focus and the commitment of large amounts of resources.
It will be a national shame if the nation that increased life expectancy by over 25 years during the 20th Century becomes a nation of inert, unhealthy, unproductive fat people by the middle of the 21st Century. It is time for everyone to take note of the problem and actually begin to seriously confront it.
Readers who want to find more information on this hot button topic can read a recent article in USA Today by going to http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2012-05-09/obesity-epidemic-strategies/54813912/1?csp=34news. The article includes an interactive map of the U.S. that provides statistics on obesity by state. It also includes a number of links to other resources.