Emory Report
Sept. 18, 2006
Volume 59, Number 4


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Sept. 18, 2006
Progress slow in obesity decline

Most of the policies and programs in place to combat childhood obesity are not being evaluated, and national leadership on the problem also is lacking, according to a new report issued last week from the Institute of Medicine. Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for academic health affairs at Emory, chaired the report committee.

Childhood and adolescent obesity rates are increasing, and the report found that one-third of American children and youth are obese or at risk of becoming obese. The U.S. obesity rate for children and youth increased from 16 percent in 2002 to 17.1 percent in 2004, and is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2010 if the current trajectory continues.

“The good news is that Americans have begun to recognize that childhood obesity is a serious public health problem, and initiatives to address it are under way,” Koplan said. “With that awareness and mobilization of efforts, we can make huge strides in beginning to halt and reverse the childhood obesity trend—if we have strong leadership, effective policies and programs that we know work, and sufficient resources.”

As Koplan points out, not all the news is bad. The report found that short-term outcomes are being achieved. Several federal policies have been changed to encourage better nutrition and physical activity in schools; many communities have built sidewalks and bike paths to encourage physical activity; and national awareness of the problem is increasing. But positive changes in the health outcomes of children and youth, as measured by body mass index, will require years of sustained efforts, systematic evaluation and adequate resources, the committee said.

The committee’s recommendations to reduce childhood obesity focus on four key steps: increased and sustained leadership and commitment; broader implementation and evaluation of policies and programs; improved monitoring and surveillance of progress; and wider dissemination of promising practices.

The report calls on the government to sustain successful programs such as a terminated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention campaign, which demonstrated effectiveness in promoting physical activity in children. “The termination of a well-designed and effective program to increase physical activity and combat childhood obesity calls into question the commitment of both the government and many other stakeholders who could have supported the continuity of the campaign,” said Koplan.

The committee recommended that the U.S. Congress, in consultation with industry and other stakeholders, support independent, periodic evaluations of industry’s efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Given the increasing proportion of calories children and youth consume outside the home, the report also recommends that the Food and Drug Administration be given authority to evaluate full-serve and quick-serve restaurants’ food, beverage and meal options to ensure that nutrition information is more accessible and relevant to young consumers.