Last week in a desperate attempt to stem the rise of obesity levels, the prestigious independent body of scientists and physicians that advises the feds on health policy, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), recommended requiring at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day in schools and considering excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
It also urged food companies to improve nutritional standards for foods marketed to people under 18 years old, recommending that mandatory standards be considered at all levels of government if the companies don’t adopt their own.
Pretty radical stuff, huh? Well, our obesity problem is growing (no pun intended), and for the first time, our children may not live as long as us. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and the number of people who are morbidly obese (weighing in at twice the ideal body weight) is seriously rising. Unbelievably, 6.9 percent of middle school children are morbidly obese (defined as those having a BMI in the 99th percentile).
If these trends continue, 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030.
Forget all the fuss over math scores; if we don't get our weight under control, the majority of the population will soon be too fat and too sick to get off the couch, much less compete internationally. This isn't an individual problem — it’s a national problem.
If you are one of those citizens who scream for smaller government, government regulation might drive you crazy. Well, let me ask you, who do you think pays the $190 billion a year it costs to treat the health problems of the obese? All of us. With increased insurance premiums, we all pay to subsidize the added medical charges. This national crisis must be seriously addressed.
America's progress in arresting its obesity epidemic hasn’t worked. “Solving this complex problem requires a comprehensive set of solutions that work together to spur across-the-board societal change,” said the committee that wrote the report. The report identifies strategies with the greatest potential to accelerate success by making healthy foods and beverages and opportunities for physical activity easy, routine and appealing aspects of daily life.
The IOM focused their recommendations for preventing obesity on schools, because children spend up to half their waking hours and consume as many as half their daily calories there. Hopefully, adopting a healthy lifestyle in school will carry over to their after school lives.
The IOM presented five distinct goals for accomplishing each of them:
Goal 1: Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life.
Goal 2: Create food and beverage environments that ensure that healthy options are the routine, easy choice.
Goal 3: Transform messages about physical activity and nutrition.
Goal 4: Expand the role of health care providers, insurers, and employers in obesity prevention.
Goal 5: Make schools a national focal point for obesity prevention.
California has jumped the gun and instituted changes in their public schools to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity. About five years ago they banned junk food in school and required kids to take P.E.
A new report showed that the changes in California are working-high school students there consumed fewer calories and less fat and sugar at school than students in other states. The study found that California high school students consumed on average nearly 160 calories fewer per day than students in other states.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that if children cut just 64 fewer calories per day, by 2020 the U.S. childhood obesity rate would drop 10 percent lower than where it was in the mid-2000s.
It’s obvious that our obesity epidemic will not be curbed by individual willpower alone. It's time we come together as a nation and tackle this crisis.
The IOM recommendations are meant to change the living environment to discourage overeating, junk-food consumption and sedentary lifestyles.
Instead of fighting over the benefits of banning soda in schools, let's rationally discuss these recommendations. Our children's futures are at stake.