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Leadership Needed to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Armen Hareyan's picture

Childhood Obesity Slow Progress

Despite widespread awareness among parents, educators and government and public health officials concerning the growing health risks posed by childhood obesity, little progress is being made to address the issue, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine.

The report, by the Institute's Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity, examined the progress made by obesity prevention initiatives in the United States during the past two years.

Its findings reveal that although federal, state and local governments and community groups are actively engaged in childhood obesity prevention efforts, a lack of central leadership, funding and program evaluation measures are hampering those efforts. As a result, childhood obesity continues to increase across the country.

"The good news is that people are aware of the severity of the childhood obesity epidemic and government and community groups are implementing prevention programs throughout the country," said Douglas Kamerow, M.D., of RTI International, and a committee member. "However, for the most part these efforts are small scale and lack cohesion and national leadership. To adequately address this growing problem, childhood obesity prevention needs to become a priority for both policy makers and the private sector, and a strong commitment to implementing changes is needed."

Since the 1970s, the prevalence of obesity has more than doubled for preschool children 2 to 5 years old and adolescents 12 to 19 years old, and it has more than tripled for children 6 to 11 years old. Today, about nine million children over six years of age are obese.

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"A long-term commitment to create a healthy environment for our children and youth is urgently needed," the report concluded. "This commitment will require widespread changes in social norms, institutions, and practices beyond those that directly involved children and youth."

The committee said that government, industry, communities, school and families need to demonstrate leadership and commitment in order to mobilize resources and identify, implement and evaluate policies and interventions that address the childhood obesity epidemic.

The committee members recommended that local, state and federal officials identify priorities for action in childhood obesity prevention efforts and coordinate those action items with community groups. They also suggest that school districts bolster their physical education and nutrition requirements, and that industry and the public health community strengthen partnerships that support obesity prevention efforts.

Additionally, committee members advocate that parents take an active role in prevention efforts at home by monitoring changes in their family's food, beverage and physical activity choices and encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

The committee said that the current obesity prevention programs are not being evaluated, and emphasized the importance of doing so, so that success approaches can be identified and replicated.

The Institute of Medicine committee consisted of 19 experts in child health, obesity, nutrition, physical activity, and public health. The report builds on the Institute of Medicine's 2005 report, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, which was a congressionally mandated study that provided a blueprint to guide concerted actions for many stakeholders - including government, industry, media, communities, schools, and families - to collectively respond to the growing obesity epidemic in children and youth.