Obesity Prevention Addressed in New IOM Report

Norra MacReady

May 08, 2012

May 8, 2012 — Obesity prevention requires nothing less than changes throughout American society, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) being released today.

Obesity has become so pervasive and severe that it "constitutes a startling setback to major improvements achieved in other areas of health during the past century," the report's authors write. The mission of the IOM committee, led by Daniel R. Glickman, executive director of congressional programs, the Aspen Institute, Washington, DC, and a former secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, was to develop a set of recommendations that could "significantly accelerate progress toward preventing obesity over the next decade."

Many individual programs have already made strides in addressing the problem of obesity, the authors write. What the country needs now is "a set of obesity prevention actions that, both individually and together, can accelerate meaningful change on a societal level."

The committee’s recommendations include aggressive promotion of physical activity, creation of environments conducive to healthy eating, and expanding the role of healthcare providers, employers, and schools in obesity prevention.

At this time, two thirds of American adults and nearly one third of American children are overweight or obese, and obesity-related illness costs the nation an estimated $190.2 billion per year, according to the report. "These staggering human and economic costs, along with the difficulties of treating obesity and the slow progress made in reversing national obesity trends, underscore the urgent need to accelerate progress in obesity prevention," the authors write in a report brief.

The IOM formed the Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention to address the healthcare challenges presented by obesity. The report is being released as part of the Weight of the Nation conference convened by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new report identifies 5 critical areas, or "environments," from which to attack the problem: physical activity, food and beverage, message (or marketing), healthcare and work, and schools. Using those 5 environments, the committee developed 5 major goals, each with multiple strategies for implementation:

  • To make physical activity an integral and routine part of daily life.

  • To create food and beverage "environments" that ensure that healthy options are routine and easy choices.

  • To transform messages about physical activity and nutrition.

  • To expand the role of healthcare providers, insurers, and employers in obesity prevention.

  • To make schools a national focal point for the prevention of obesity.

Examples of recommended strategies include having healthy options available everywhere food is offered, with fast food chains and restaurants revising their menus so that at least half their children's offerings comply with federal dietary guidelines, at little or no extra cost. Within 2 years, the food and beverage industries and media should develop marketing standards aimed at children and adolescents up to 17 years of age or face mandatory standards set by the government. Schools can be a gateway to healthy habits and should receive federal support to improve the nutritional quality of the foods they offer, as well as to promote regular physical activity.

If implemented together, these recommendations "could profoundly reshape the environments where people live, work, play, and learn," the committee concludes in the report brief. "The force of each action, compounded by the collective ability to accelerate and strengthen each other's impact, can profoundly improve the nation's health."

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. Institute of Medicine.

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