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Many factors blamed for childhood obesity

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Obesity is now reaching epidemic proportions with huge long term implications for the country (US and Canada) – long term medical problems, soaring health costs, quality of life issues, ulitmate impacts on worker productivity and all considering potential impacts to national security

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Childhood Obesity Needs Action


WASHINGTON (AP) — A wide-ranging effort involving parents, schools, communities and government is needed to turn the tide of childhood obesity, the Institute of Medicine said Thursday.

“No single factor or sector of society bears all of the blame for the problem,” and no sector alone can correct it, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan of Emory University in Atlanta, chairman of the committee that prepared the recommendations, said at a briefing.

Shiriki K. Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine likened the recommendations to other long-term public health efforts, such as reducing smoking and getting people to use seat belts.

“This is not something that can happen overnight,” she said, though some things can be done quickly, such as making schools commercial-free zones.

Strong, coordinated leadership will be needed to make the effort succeed, said Russell R. Pate of the University of South Carolina, and “government at all levels should provide coordinated leadership.”

The country has drifted into a situation where the number of obese youths has more than doubled over the last 30 years, Koplan said, “but we’re not going to drift out of it.”

Today, some 9 million children older than 6 are obese, the report said.

The report called for a wide-ranging effort that includes less time in front of television and computer screens, changes in food labeling and advertising, more school and community physical education programs, and education to help children make better choices.

“It is now critical to alter social norms and attitudes” so that healthy eating and physical activity become routine, said Koplan.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson noted that the Food and Drug Administration is examining how to revise food labels to ensure that parents understand how many calories they and their children are consuming.

“Accurate, helpful information will allow them to make wise food choices at home, at supermarkets and in restaurants,” Thompson said.

Margo G. Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the report recommends many sensible steps.

“But frankly,” she added, “how many more of these reports do we need before the government actually starts adopting some of these policies? How many more kids will start on a lifetime of disease before the nation starts treating this epidemic like an epidemic? It’s time for action.”

Mary C. Sophos, senior vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said the food industry is reformulating products to reduce calories, fat and salt and is offering smaller package sizes.

“To achieve successful behavioral change, we will need to emphasize positive, motivational messages and tools across society, rather than relying on restrictions or negative messages,” she said.

Robert Earl of the National Food Processors Association also noted changes being made by food manufacturers, and added: “The food industry also supports programs to promote physical activity among children. This report emphasizes the importance of including physical activity in any effort to address obesity – at school, at home, and in communities.”

Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of Stanford University, a member of the committee that prepared the report, said that many health care providers are worried about the future as obese children age and adult chronic diseases are beginning in the teen years and younger. “Everything is affected by overweight,” he said.

The report from the IOM, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to focus on childhood obesity. Over the last 30 years the rate of childhood obesity has tripled among youngsters aged 6 to 11 and has doubled for those aged 2 to 5 and 12 to 19, the institute reported.

Obesity can lead to increased likelihood of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep problems, high cholesterol, gallstones and other problems.

Specifically, the panel suggested that parents limit kids’ TV hours, that schools provide healthier food, that restaurants offer nutrition information and that communities provide more recreation opportunities.

The IOM report calls for increased federal involvement, including creation of an interdepartmental task force to coordinate activities, developing nutrition standards for school food, setting guidelines for advertising and marketing to children and increases in research funding.

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