IOM offers strategies for obesity prevention

by Jay Sjerven
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After evaluating more than 800 prevention recommendations, the Institute of Medicine, in a report titled “Accelerating progress in obesity prevention” issued May 8, identified five general strategies to reduce the incidence of obesity in the United States. The strategies included the integration of physical activities into people’s daily lives; making healthful food and beverage options available everywhere; transforming marketing messages about nutrition and activity; making schools gateways for healthy weights; and encouraging employers and health care professionals to support healthy lifestyles.

Specific recommendations included in the report concentrated on industry-wide guidelines regarding which foods and beverages may be marketed to children, requiring at least 60 minutes per day of physical education in schools, expanding workplace wellness programs, having physicians play a larger role in advocating obesity prevention measures with patients, and increasing the availability of low-calorie, healthier children’s meals in restaurants.

The recommendations were made by a committee appointed by the I.O.M. at the request of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which was seeking catalysts to speed progress in obesity prevention.

“As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day,” said I.O.M. committee chairman Dan Glickman, executive director of congressional programs, Aspen Institute, Washington, and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “Individuals and groups can’t solve this complex problem alone, and that’s why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another’s impact to speed our progress.”

The report’s proposed action steps aim to support individuals’ and families’ abilities to make healthy choices where they work, learn, eat and play. For example, healthy food and beverage options should be available at competitive prices everywhere that food is offered, and an effort should be made to reduce unhealthful products, according to the committee. Fast-food and chain restaurants could revise their recipes and menus to ensure that at least half of their children’s meals comply with federal dietary guidelines for moderately active children and charge little or no more for these options. In addition, shopping centers, convention centers, sports arenas, and other public venues that make meals and snacks available should offer a full variety of foods, including those recommended by the dietary guidelines.

Noting that Americans are surrounded by messaging that promotes sedentary activities and high-calorie foods and drinks, the report added that the food, beverage, restaurant, and media industries need to quicken and enhance their voluntary efforts to develop and implement common nutritional standards for marketing aimed at children and adolescents up to age 17. The I.O.M. committee said government agencies should consider setting mandatory rules if a majority of the industries have not adopted suitable standards within two years.

The report also said in an effort to increase positive messaging about physical activity and nutrition, government agencies, private organizations, and the media could work together to develop a social marketing campaign that encourages people to pursue healthy activities and habits.

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