5 Goals to Tackle in the War on Obesity

Friday, May 18th, 2012
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

It’s not new that obesity numbers are going up. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t report an alarming new statistic on this problem; the latest, from Duke University, states that nearly half of the U.S. population could be obese by 2030; and 11 percent of this group will be severely obese, or roughly 100 pounds or more overweight.

It’s hardly new that obesity endangers not just its victims, but our healthcare infrastructure as well; a recent study from Duke and the AHRQ reported that obesity costs states $15 billion a year in medical expenses, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates that obesity costs the United States $190.2 billion a year in health-related costs. And the costs of obesity aren’t limited to our country; according to new data from the World Health Organization (WHO), “In every region of the world, obesity doubled between 1980 and 2008,” says Dr Ties Boerma, Director of the Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems at WHO. “Today, half a billion people (12% of the world’s population) are considered obese.” The report goes on to say:

The highest obesity levels are in the WHO Region of the Americas (26% of adults) and the lowest in the WHO South-East Asia Region (3% obese). In all parts of the world, women are more likely to be obese than men, and thus at greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

So it’s by no means new that efforts are once again underway to control this epidemic, with the IOM’s new report on “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention.” But what is new is the scope of the conversation on obesity this time. Just this month, Kaiser Permanente, HBO, the National Institutes of Health, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the CDC and the IOM launched a major public-health campaign aimed at obesity, excess weight and their effects on the nation’s health. A new four-part documentary series from HBO, called the Weight of the Nation, is currently available to all cable subscribers, not just HBO subscribers. And the CDC held a Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, D.C. on May 7th, where speakers stressed that while knowledge of healthy eating and lifestyle strategies were widely known, access to these strategies weren’t always easily accessible.

And just about every media outlet has made the issue a pivotal part of their program. Because according to the IOM’s report, it will take a concerted effort from all to make any progress.

In its comprehensive review of obesity prevention-related recommendations, strategies and action steps that have the greatest potential to speed up progress in combating the obesity crisis, the agency presents five goals:

  • Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life.
  • Create food and beverage environments that ensure that healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice.
  • Transform messages about physical activity and nutrition.
  • Expand the roles of healthcare providers, insurers, employers.
  • Make schools a national focal point.
  • There must be consensus among all relevant parties to help make these goals attainable, the report stresses. To make physical activity more accessible, one example encourages civic leaders to convert unused spaces, like railroad beds, into walking/running/biking trails. To make healthy food and beverage options available, the report recommends the following steps:

    reducing unhealthy food and beverage options while substantially increasing access to healhier food and beverages at competitive prices. The overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages must be reduced; calories substantially slashed in meals served to children while the number of affordable, healthier menu options is boosted significantly; and governments need to provide incentives to encourage supermarkets and other food retailers to place stores in underserved areas.

    Congress, the White House, federal policy makers and foundations have to dedicate funds to develop and implement sutstained social marketing campaigns aimed at physical activity and nutrition. Employers and doctors need to encourage and uphold better health. And schools need to be a major advocate of healthy eating for children, because most children spend nearly half their days there, and according to the IOM, consume between one-third to one-half of their daily calories there.

    Maybe this is just what we need, an APB, of sorts, or a call to action to everyone from individuals to families to schools to doctors to employers to civic leaders to the White House to get on board with this issue. Because none of this is new information. But just maybe, we could make it old news.

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