'Weight of the Nation' declares war on obesity

Efforts to fight the U.S. obesity epidemic have been too slow, resulting in millions of Americans suffering from chronic, debilitating and deadly diseases, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Released Tuesday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Weight of the Nation" conference, the report outlines critical goals that must be put in place to address the complex and unrelenting problem of obesity.

The IOM - an independent nonprofit arm of the National Academy of Sciences - offered the following recommendations for individuals, schools, government and industry:

--Include physical activity in daily life.

--Ensure everyone has access to healthy food and drink choices in all settings.

--Change the message and the marketing about the importance of nutrition.

--Make schools a gateway to healthy weight.

--Motivate employers, doctors and other health care professionals to get on board and champion healthy lifestyles.

"As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day," said committee chair Dan Glickman, executive director of congressional programs, Aspen Institute, Washington, D.C., and former U.S. secretary of Agriculture. "Individuals and groups can't solve this complex problem alone, and that's why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another's impact to speed our progress."

The committee reviewed more than 800 obesity prevention recommendations. Some of the strategies which they said might be most effective include:

--Requiring schools to provide 60 minutes of physical education or activity per day

--Implementing industry-wide guidelines on what food and drinks can be marketed to children as well as how

--Expanding on-the-job wellness programs and getting restaurants to make lower calorie, healthier kid meals available.

Other suggestions include having healthier options at competitive prices at all venues like sports arenas and malls. The report calls on government agencies to mandate the changes if industry has not adopted suitable standards within two years. And the report challenges the media to work with federal officials and the food industry on a marketing campaign that would get the word out about healthy living.

Saying that kids consume up to half of their daily calories in school, the committee also endorses giving schools the funds and backing they need to make sure federal nutrition standards are in place for products sold in vending machines and at concession stands - and even suggesting food literacy to be taught as part of the school curriculum.

"Obesity is both an individual and societal concern, and it will take action from all of us - individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole - to achieve a healthier society," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a group that advocates strongly for nutrition and health policy, is urging the recommendations be implemented immediately.

"The IOM report provides an excellent blueprint for solving America's costly obesity problem. But policy makers will have to invest both money and political capital to convert the advice into reality," said Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director.

CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan said the country has begun to address the issue, but more progress is needed. "It's unconscionable that we are still doing so little to help the two-thirds of American who are at risk of costly and debilitating obesity-related problems like heart attack, stroke, amputations, blindness and cancer," Wootan said.

The Weight of the Nation initiative includes a four-part HBO documentary series that examines the epidemic through case studies, interviews with families who are struggling with obesity and leading national experts.

 

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