Yesterday, we talked about the financial and health impact that obesity is having on our lives as American taxpayers, consumers and patients.
We showed that when it comes to obesity, state and federal governments and private insurers have been slow to respond to this public health crisis.
Today we turn our focus to the prevention of childhood and adolescent obesity.
After all, there is a 70% chance that an overweight adolescent will become an overweight adult, so targeting younger Americans really seems like the right thing to do.
And overweight children face serious medical problems of their own:
A study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2008 convention found that the artery walls of overweight and obese children look like those of an average 45 year-old, meaning that such youngsters are at-risk for heart disease and stroke at a much earlier age.
Imagine having a heart attack or open heart surgery in your 30’s, instead of your 50’s…
So what steps can policymakers, parents, and community leaders take to curb the growth of childhood obesity?
First, the newly-appointed Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, Governor Tom Vilsack, will have the opportunity to make reforms to the Child Nutrition Act which is scheduled to come up for review in early 2009.
The Child Nutrition Act helps to regulate the National School Lunch (and Breakfast) Programs (NSLP).
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was started in 1947. It helps to provide free or reduced-price meals to low-income students. As of 2007, the NSLP served approximately 30.5 million lunches per day at a cost of $8.7 billion a year.
While providing a great service to low-income families, critics of the program point to the poor nutritional value of the foods served.
The reason for this is simple:
The USDA purchases hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-fat, high-cholesterol meat products each year to benefit U.S. agribusiness.
These food products are then distributed to schools through an entitlement program.
Obtaining fruits and vegetables is an entirely different matter. Schools are on their own to make these selections, and are reimbursed at a much lower level for these products by the USDA.
Under pressure from watchdog groups like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, many school districts have reformed their practices and now serve vegetables and fruit sides, and non-dairy and vegetarian options daily or several times a week.
Mr. Vilsack and Congress should also reform the Child Nutrition Act to mandate that school lunches contain less fat content, and the USDA should increase its vegetable and fruit reimbursement rates.
Click here for a report card that ranks public school lunches nationwide.
As for other ways to reduce childhood obesity, less television and more exercise seem to be the key.
This Kaiser Family Foundation literature review found that children who spend the most time watching television or using other forms of media such as computers and video games, are more likely to be overweight than their peers.
Contrary to popular belief, this may not be simply because using media replaces vigorous exercise. Children who watch a lot of television are also exposed to more advertisements about fast food, soda, candy and other sugary edibles, which encourage them to seek out those items. These types of foods often contain high fructose corn syrup, which can lead to obesity and diabetes when consumed in large amounts.
So – who’s raising the kids? Who’s buying the junk food in the stores and letting them sit in front of the television eating the junk food? Might be a good idea to take a look at parenting and parental knowledge when it comes to kid’s diets.
Along that vein, several states are considering or enacting legislation requiring that students learn about nutrition in schools and/or participate in some form of physical activity during the day.
- While all 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation related to physical education and/or physical activity in schools, only 13 have enforceability language and only four have sanctions or penalties if the programs are not implemented.
- In effect, there is still work to be done at the state and federal levels on this issue.