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Multiple strategies needed to fight obesity, study suggests
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – 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 out Tuesday.
It’s going to take “bold actions” like these and a full-scale effort across all segments of society to reduce the obesity epidemic, says the report from experts convened by the Institute of Medicine, which provides independent advice on health issues to policy makers, foundations and others.
The goals and some of the strategies were presented here at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Weight of the Nation” meeting, where experts are discussing ideas for the prevention and control of obesity.
Currently, two-thirds of adults and a third of children in the USA are overweight or obese, government statistics show. Another study out Monday predicted that as many as 42% of adults may be obese, roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight, by 2030 if actions aren’t taken to reverse the trend.
Extra weight takes a huge toll on health increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, sleep apnea and other debilitating and chronic illnesses, and it costs billions of dollars in extra medical expenditures.
The Institute of Medicine committee reviewed more than 800 obesity prevention recommendations to pinpoint the most effective ones.
The report says there is no one answer to this problem, but it’s going to require bringing all the pieces together — the schools, the workplace, health care providers, says Dan Glickman, chairman of the institute committee and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “There are no magic bullets in here, but this report puts it all together.”
The illnesses and costs associated with obesity are spiraling out of control, he says. “If we don’t address this comprehensively, it will basically take us down as a society.”
M. R. C. Greenwood, vice chairwoman of the committee and president of the University of Hawaii system, says, “Many people will probably say ‘what’s new’ and what’s new is the clear statement that we must begin to attack this problem collectively on all fronts. It’s a massive problem unlike anything we have ever tackled before.”
Here are the five goals and a some strategies suggested for achieving them:
•Make it easier for people to work physical activity into their daily lives.
For instance, people need to have safe places to be active including trails, parks, playgrounds and community recreation centers.
•Create an environment where healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice.
Fast-food and chain restaurants could revise menus to make sure at least half of their kids’ meals comply with government’s dietary guidelines for moderately active 4- to 8-year-olds, and that those meals are moderately priced.
Businesses, governments and others should adopt policies to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages including making clean water available in public places, work sites and recreation areas.
•Improve messages about physical activity and nutrition.
The food, beverage, restaurant and media industries should take voluntary action to adopt nutritionally based standards for marketing aimed at children and adolescents, ages 2-17. If those standards aren’t adopted within two years by the majority of companies, then local, state and federal policymakers should consider setting mandatory nutritional standards for marketing to this age group.
•Expand the role of health care providers, insurers and employers in obesity prevention.
Employers should provide access to healthy foods at work and offer opportunities for physical activity as part of their wellness/health promotion programs.
All health care providers should adopt standards of practice for preventing, screening, diagnosing and treating people who are overweight or obese.
•Make schools a national focal point for obesity prevention.
Students should have nutrition education throughout their school years, and kids in kindergarten through 12th grade should have the chance to engage in a total of 60 minutes of physical activity each school day. This should include participation in quality physical education.
“There’s so much to do, and the country is still doing so little,” says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer group. “It seems heartless that we’re abandoning two-thirds of the American population to obesity-related diseases.”
There are lots of ways for students to get an hour of physical activity during the school day including recess, PE, walking and biking to school, classroom activities and after-school sports, Wootan says. “Kids need a chance to run around in order to sit still and learn in the classroom.”
When it comes to food marketing to kids, “companies claim to be taking meaningful action, but still the overwhelming majority of food ads aimed at kids are for unhealthy foods,” she says.
“What industry says is healthy to market to kids is not what most parents and health professionals think is healthy.”
Not everyone is convinced that the actions outlined in the report will make a dent in the obesity problem. “The literature in evaluating interventions like these shows weak effectiveness at best,” says Morgan Downey, editor and publisher of the downeyobesityreport.com. “So rather than evaluate the strategies’ effectiveness, they (the committee members) are just shouting them even louder.”
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