by Nanci Hellmich
WASHINGTON - Students should be physically active for 60 minutes every day at school, fast-food restaurants need to offer healthier foods to kids, and communities need to have trails and other safe areas for residents to encourage physical activity, says a report out today.
It's going to take many strategies like these and a full-scale effort across all segments of society to reduce the obesity epidemic in this country, says a report from an expert committee 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 meeting, "Weight of the Nation," 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.
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.
Communities could convert unused railroad beds into walking/running/biking trails.
•Create an environment where healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice.
Fast-food and chain restaurants could revise their recipes and 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. Shopping centers, convention centers, sports arenas, and other public venues that have meals and snacks also should offer a variety of healthy foods.
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 develop and 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.
•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 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."