Date: May 14, 2012
On May 8, 2012, the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report, titled Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation, in response to the growing epidemic of obesity in the United States. The comprehensive report, spanning the contributors and proposed responses to obesity, acknowledges positive gains in combating the epidemic specific sub-populations and regions throughout the country, but forewarns that societal and cultural shifts more generally are required to remove barriers to reducing the incidence of obesity on the national level.
The Report notes that the basic underlying cause of obesity – the consumption of a greater number of calories than that which are expended – is influenced by a number of factors, ranging from the availability and affordability of low cost, low nutrition foods, to the increase in quantity and variety of media advertising, to the advent of a sedentary lifestyle and promulgation of societal conveniences throughout the past three decades.
To address the epidemic, the Report sets forth a series of policy recommendations intended to address and mitigate the multi-faceted causes of the disease. Under the proposed "systems approach," IOM recommends that five specific environments should serve as the foundation and focus for the proposals set forth therein. These environments include:
IOM places emphasis on the food and beverage industry as an organization capable of implementing changes intended to improve consumer awareness and choice at the retail and food establishment levels. Specifically, noting that sugar-sweetened beverages represent the single largest source of calories and sugar in the American diet, the Report recommends replacing other beverages with a more-favorable nutritional profile, including water, milk, and 100% fruit juice. The Report further recommends that the food and beverage industry should promote a broader variety of choices, including products with reduced portion sizes and lesser caloric content.
In addition, IOM suggests that chain restaurants should reduce the number of calories offered in a children's portion, while at the same time promoting competitively-priced, healthier selections – menu selections should promote items containing reduced levels of sodium, calories, cholesterol, trans-fats and sugars for both children and adults, by labeling such products as "healthy," where appropriate.
In addition to recommending changes at point-of-sale retail and restaurant locations, IOM sets forth in its Report a series of recommendations targeting "message environments," or the "environment that surrounds Americans with messages about physical activity, food, and nutrition." As part of these recommendations, the Report suggests that industry and government should cooperate to implement common marketing standards for products sold to children and adolescents, and ensure consistent nutrition labeling on retail products and menus.
Further, the Report emphasizes the role of government and the community at large in reducing the obesity epidemic. Specifically, IOM suggests that urban planners and engineers strive to design communities that feature significant percentages of open space intended to promote increased physical activity. The Report notes the important role that the health care industry and health professionals play in counseling children, adolescents, and adults in terms of positive and beneficial nutritional choices, and monitoring the health of the same. Finally, the Report places particular emphasis on the role of schools and government in facilitating changes intended to promote increased physical activity among children and reduced consumption of high-caloric products in the school environment.
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