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Report Blasts Child Obesity Inaction

Fragmented, Small Efforts Not Enough to Head Off Epidemic, Say Experts
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 13, 2006 -- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) Wednesday criticized the slow progress in addressing rising childhood obesity rates, saying government, the food industry, and families are not doing enough to reverse the problem.

The nation is "beginning to grasp the severity" of childhood obesity, which now affects more than 17% of American children and adolescents, an IOM report says.

But efforts -- including increasing mandatory physical education and de-emphasizing junk food in public schools -- remain mostly "fragmented and small in scale," far short of the comprehensive action endorsed by IOM experts in 2004, it says.

Obesity rates continue to rise despite pleas from public health experts for major programs to combat the problem. Experts warn that one-fifth of U.S. kids are projected to be at risk for obesity by 2010 if current trends do not slow.

"We are still not doing enough to prevent childhood obesity, and the problem is getting worse," says Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, chairman of a panel that wrote the report and a former director of the CDC.

The panel praised movement by industry and some state and local governments to increase chances for physical activity and encourage healthy eating over junk food.

Major beverage distributors, facing growing scrutiny from politicians and courts, agreed earlier this year to limit sales in schools to low-calorie soft drinks and juices.

But experts blamed companies, states, local authorities, and the federal government, for not coordinating their efforts.

Programs designed to combat obesity generally lack any means of measuring effectiveness.

Social Change

IOM panelist Antroinette (Toni) Yancey suggested that obesity suffers the same problem as most chronic illnesses that compete for the public's attention and the government's dollars: a long-term effect that makes them seem less urgent.

Government agencies, schools, and most parents have not yet grasped the gravity of increased rates of diabetesdiabetes, heart diseaseheart disease, and other illnesses that are sure to follow a rise in obesity.

"We need social norm change that's sweeping in this country," says Yancey, a professor at the UCLA School of Public Health.

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