Obesity as the norm in American is of great concern. Over the past 20 years, there has been a steady increase in overweight or obese Americans. From 1994 to 2004, the American College of Cardiology reports that there has been a 150% relative increase in obesity prevalence. As it stands now in the US, two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. Having worked 31 years as a pediatrician, I have witnessed firsthand the dramatic increase in obesity-related illnesses amongst my patients. A report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine states that annual healthcare costs related to obesity are an estimated $190.2 billon and projected to rise to $549.5 billion by 2030. Besides healthcare related costs, obesity directly affects our nation’s economic productivity with businesses facing billions of dollars in losses from obesity-related absenteeism. Dire statistics, no doubt…
With the future of the nation’s health and productivity at stake, a multi-faceted systematic approach to obesity prevention is necessary. Why multifaceted? The underlying factors of obesity are a complex web which extends to the societal level and hence must be addressed from a public health perspective. Here are a few non-genetic factors contributing to obesity: not enough or lack of physical activity, unhealthy diets (e.g. high fructose, high gluten, processed foods, etc.), marketing of toxic food sources such has junk food and a need for proactive education of public on health/nutrition.
Fortunately, efforts are being made to tackle this issue. Last May 2012, the IOM (Institute of Medicine) released recommendations on obesity prevention that provides a general framework for tackling the issue. The IOM’s recommendations are:
- Integrating daily physical activity into lifestyle
- Having schools be the foundation for providing children with the knowledge and skills to make healthier choices
- Conscious marketing of nutritionally sound foods and beverages
- Easy accessibility of healthy foods and beverages e.g. vending machines
- Motivating employers and health care professionals to reinforce healthy lifestyles
The recommendations outlined above were based on an evaluation of 800 published obesity prevention strategies. Its intent is to provide a framework for setting policy as well as outlining a base infrastructure for supporting healthier lifestyles.
As a physician, I’m a proponent of these recommendations and encourage being proactive in its implementation. I also welcome and will gladly answer any general questions on obesity prevention. Please feel free to share your thoughts as well.