America’s collective waistline is about to expand, if we’re not careful. On Monday the American Journal of Preventative Medicine released a study predicting that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030.
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The researchers, who examined data from 1990 to 2008 to make projections, predict that the obesity rate will climb by a third and the severe-obesity prevalence (what is severe obesity?) will jump 130 percent over the next two decades. In addition to putting millions of Americans’ health at risk, we’ll be paying an estimated $549.5 billion in health care costs as a result.
The research was presented at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weight of the Nation conference, which coincides with the upcoming HBO documentary by the same name—a collaboration between the CDC, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente. The four-part HBO special, which airs May 14 and 15 and streams online, touches on the dangers of America’s growing obesity epidemic. “Obesity will crush the United States into oblivion,” comments Susan Combs Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in the program’s trailer.
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But it’s not all gloom and doom. At the conference, the IOM presented potential ways to tackle America’s weight woes. The IOM committee looked at more than 800 obesity prevention measures and narrowed them down to five critical goals:
1. Integrating physical activity into people's daily lives
2. Making healthy food and beverage options widely accessible
3. Changing the way nutrition and activity as marketed
4. Making schools a vehicle for keeping kids at a healthy weight
5. Rousing health care professionals to support healthy lifestyles
“Individuals and groups can’t solve this complex problem alone, and that’s why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another’s impact to speed our progress,” said committee chair Dan Glickman, executive director of congressional programs, Aspen Institute and former secretary of the USDA.
What’s more, they named a few specific strategies to meet these goals, including requiring 60 minutes of physical activity per day in schools, establishing industry-wide guidelines on the foods that can be marketed at children, and increasing the low-calorie, healthy options for kids’ restaurant meals.
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Representatives at health organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have come out in support of the IOM’s recommendations, and piggybacked with their own suggestions.
“The IOM report provides an excellent blueprint for solving America’s costly obesity problem,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But policy makers will have to invest both money and political capital to convert the advice into reality,” He proposed a multi-billion-dollar anti-obesity program complete with national and local marketing campaigns, a tax on sugary beverages, and a revised food stamp program that would exclude sugary drinks and give users a bonus for fruits and vegetables.
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Sylvia Escott-Stump, president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pointed out that may of the IOM suggestions overlapped with the Academy’s mission. “More than 1,200 Academy members belong to our school Nutrition Services practice group,” she said. “These members are employed in child nutrition programs at the local, state and national levels.” She also wants families to direct their attention to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for healthy eating recommendations.
“Obesity is both an individual and societal concern, and it will take action from all of us—individuals, communities and the nation as a whole—to achieve a healthier society,” said IOM president Harvey V. Fineberg.
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