These efforts need national leadership, according to the report, Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up?, of the Institute of Medicine. This report was released yesterday.
"The very health of the country hangs in the balance until we reverse the childhood obesity epidemic," Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the report, said at a press conference.
"Leaders in Washington, in our home states and towns need to accept this cold hard fact: That if we do not reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, millions of kids and our society will be robbed of a healthy and hopeful future," Lavizzo-Mourey said.
The childhood and adolescent obesity rates are increasing drastically in the US. The report reveals that at present, 1/3rd of the kids in America are either obese or at risk of becoming one. The obesity rate for kids and teenagers increased from 16% in 2002 to 17.1% in 2004 and is estimated to rise to 20% by 2010.
Several disorders like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers are caused by obesity.
The report revealed that some steps are being taken in order to fight obesity. Encouragement for improved nutrition and physical activity in schools is one of the many federal policies introduced for this purpose. Sidewalks and bike paths have been constructed in several communities to encourage exercise.
According to the report, though there is an increase in the nationwide awareness of this problem, it will take years of sustained effort, evaluation, and resources to bring about positive changes in the health of children.
"The report provides a framework to evaluate programs and calls for greater leadership in preventing childhood obesity," Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, lead author of the paper and vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center, said at the press briefing.
"The nation is beginning to grasp the severity of the epidemic," Koplan said. "But despite some encouraging efforts, many of them remain fragmented and small in scale. We are still not doing enough to prevent childhood obesity and the problem is getting worse."
"Inconsistent monitoring of programs has hindered experts' ability to identify those that work.
"We also observed that many environments do not support healthy behaviors for our children and youth," Koplan said.
"In some communities, fruits and vegetables are not readily available, especially for families on limited household budgets. Certain neighborhoods don't offer safe places for children to play," he added.
In addition, public and private spending is not enough to deal with the extent of the problem. "There is need for collective responsibility and actions among all who have a stake in reversing this problem. No single sector of society should bear the responsibility of the problem, and no single sector, acting alone, can effectively halt and reverse it," Koplan said.
The federal, state and local government should provide leadership for creation and evaluation of effective plans and the food industry for development and promotion of healthy products and checking of portion sizes of the products, says the report.
Reliable information to promote healthy lifestyle should be put across by the food industry to the consumers. The report suggests that the food industry can act in collaboration with the public institutions to support childhood obesity-prevention efforts.
"Communities should share their successful programs with others and schools should increase their physical-education requirements and standards. In addition, families need to be sure that meals, snacks and beverages support a healthful diet and are served and eaten in reasonable portion sizes. Families should also make physical activity a priority, " Koplan said.
An expert considers the report to be beneficial, however, feels that a single approach may not undo the obesity epidemic.
"With its usual careful and comprehensive methods, the IOM has characterized the state of childhood obesity and control efforts in the United States very accurately," said Dr. David L. Katz, an associate professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine.
"There is more attention focused on the problem, and more recognition that the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes in children are a real public-health crisis, Katz said. However, it isn't clear which programs work. What's needed are innovative programs, carefully evaluated to see which are most effective, " he said.
"Moreover, children's daily environment promotes obesity. This makes it impossible for any one approach to solve the problem," Katz said.
"Factors that favor obesity assault us daily, from calorie-dense fast food to deceptive advertising, to labor-saving technology. No single factor created the obesity epidemic, and no single program will fix it," he said.