Online Exclusives

Changing the Weight of the Nation

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | July 26, 2012

IOM report proposes five comprehensive strategies to tackle the national obesity epidemic.

In an effort to combat the “substantial and long-term human and societal costs” of the national obesity crisis, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention recently issued a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to speed up the pace of obesity prevention over the next decade. The recommendations were part of a larger report titled, "Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation."
Though obesity is a global epidemic, the United States has become its reluctant poster child. IOM reported that in the US alone, one-third of adults are now obese, and the prevalence of obesity among children has risen from five to 17% in the past 30 years. Obesity’s relationship to illnesses such as type-2 diabetes also bears a substantial financial burden. And with generation upon generation succumbing to obesity, IOM projected obesity-related medical costs in general are to rise significantly, “because today’s obese children are likely to become tomorrow’s obese adults.”
IOM consulted almost 800 previously published recommendations and strategies related to obesity prevention and boiled the salient points down into five goals with supporting suggestions for implementation:
1.      Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life. This goal would task communities, transportation officials, community planners, health professionals, and governments with making physical activity a priority by increasing access to places and opportunities for physical activity. This would entail enhancing physical environments for activity; providing more community programs encouraging physical activity; adopt physical activity requirements for licensed child care providers; and providing support for the science and practice of physical activity.
2.      Create food and beverage environments that make healthy options are easy to choose. This goal would charge government and decision makers in the business community to make concerted efforts to reduce unhealthy food and beverages options in favor of healthy ones. To achieve this goal, IOM suggested the adoption of policies to reduce the overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages; increase the availability of lower-calorie and healthier food and beverage options for children in restaurants; utilize “strong nutritional standards” for all foods and beverages sold or provided through the government, and ensure that these healthy options are available in all places frequented by the public; introduce, modify, and utilize health-promoting food and beverage retailing and distribution policies; and broaden the examination and development of U.S. agriculture policy and research to include implications for the American diet.
3.      Transform messages about physical activity and nutrition. This goal would rely on industry, educators, and governments “to transform the environment that surrounds Americans with messages about physical activity, food, and nutrition” by developing and supporting a sustained, targeted physical activity and nutrition social marketing program; implementing common standards for marketing foods and beverages to children and adolescents; ensuring consistent nutrition labeling for the front of packages, retail store shelves, and menus and menu boards that encourages healthier food choices; and adopting consistent nutrition education policies for federal programs with nutrition education components.
4.      Expand the role of health care providers, insurers and employers in obesity prevention. This goal would look to health care and health service providers, employers, and insurers to lead the charge in increasing the support structure for achieving better population health and obesity prevention by providing standardized care and advocating for healthy community environments; ensuring coverage of, access to, and incentives for routine obesity prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment; encouraging active living and healthy eating at work; and encouraging healthy weight gain during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and promoting breastfeeding-friendly environments.
5.      Make schools a national focal point for obesity prevention. This final goal would require a team approach between federal, state, and local government and education authorities, with support from parents, teachers, and the business community and the private sector to require quality physical education and opportunities for physical activity in schools; ensure strong nutritional standards for all foods and beverages sold or provided through schools; and ensure food literacy, including skill development, in schools.
For more in-depth information about the IOM’s approach and recommendations, please follow this link to download a free copy of the report in its entirety.