Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention

May 8, 2012 — Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. Left unchecked, obesity's effects on health, health care costs, and our productivity as a nation will be catastrophic. Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman chaired an Institute of Medicine committee that formulated a new report that identifies obesity as a primary driver of escalating health care costs and calls upon all sectors of society to prevent and reverse the obesity that is undermining the health of our nation’s children. The IOM's recommendations, when implemented together, could profoundly reshape the environments where people live, learn, work, and play — and stem the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Shape Up America! president, Barbara J. Moore, PhD, attending the event releasing the IOM report and noted the five goals identified by the IOM:

  • Incorporate physical activity every day in every way — Incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity into the daily routine of children — whether at school or at home. For preschoolers, include free play and outdoor play at a rate of 15 minutes per hour of care. This implies a critical evaluation of the built environment in the communities in which we live to ensure that all children have equal access to abundant safe places to play.
  • Make healthy foods available everywhere — Ensure healthier foods and beverages are readily available at affordable, competitive prices everywhere in the community and ensure that clear potable water is readily available in public places, schools, worksites and recreation areas. This represents a “call to action” for parents to control the home environment to ensure that the healthy choice is the easy choice for their children at home as well as in school and in the community.
  • Market what matters for a healthy life — Curb the marketing strategies and media messages that bombard children on TVs, computers, in movie theaters, at sporting events and on cell phones encouraging them to consume unhealthy foods and beverages. Replace those messages with lifestyle messages that encourage consumption of healthy foods and beverages for children as well as ways for them to live an active life.
  • Activate employers and health care professionals — Implement strategies and policies that ensure coverage of, access to, and incentives for routine obesity prevention, screen, diagnosis and treatment. This includes equal access to health care professional monitoring and guidance to ensure healthy weight gain during pregnancy and breastfeeding of infants. It implies the necessity for encouraging active living and healthy eating at work as well as provision of breastfeeding-friendly work environments for women.
  • Strengthening schools as the “Heart of Health” — Support schools as a national focal point for obesity prevention. Require daily high quality physical education and opportunities for at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity in schools. Guarantee strong nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold or served in schools, including for celebrations and fundraising.

The report notes that although there is no consensus on the definition of ”unhealthy” foods and beverages, for the purpose of this report they are foods and beverages that deliver calories but are low or devoid of nutrients that are essential for good health and growth of children.

The IOM report is already generating a great deal of interest in the public health community. For example, recognizing that implementation of some of the recommendations will be costly, the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a press release this morning suggesting a soda tax is needed to implement the IOM report recommendations. They note that among the IOM recommendations is a call to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption by children, a recommendation that Shape Up America! supports. As the report is read and implemented, there will no doubt be plenty of new developments to report. Stay tuned.

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