Panel calls for more active federal role in fight against obesity

Federal agencies should step in if industries that promote high-calorie foods to children do not implement common nutrition standards within two years, the influential Institute of Medicine (IOM) said Tuesday. 

The recommendation came as part of a 478-page IOM report on the U.S. obesity epidemic that outlined broad policy changes the panel says are necessary to stave off a healthcare crisis.

{mosads}The changes are aimed at a complete overhaul of the United States’s “obesogenic” environment, the panel wrote.

“People have heard the advice to eat less and move more for years, and during that time a large number of Americans have become obese,” panelist Shiriki Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania said.

“That advice will never be out of date. But when you see the increase in obesity you ask, what changed? And the answer is, the environment.

“The average person cannot maintain a healthy weight in this obesity-promoting environment,” she said.

Strategies like a possible soda tax and new zoning laws to encourage walking and biking are designed to “reinforce one another’s impact to speed our progress,” said panel Chairman Dan Glickman, a former secretary of Agriculture.

The food and beverage industry, as well as its marketers, must cooperate or face possible federal intervention on issues like childhood nutrition standards, the panel warned.

Schools and employers also have a part to play, the report says, recommending students spend 60 minutes each day exercising and that workplaces expand wellness programs.

The report stated that obesity-related illness has an estimated annual cost of $190.2 billion, and a study released Monday by researchers at Duke University forecast that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030.

“Obesity is both an individual and societal concern,” said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg in a statement, “and it will take action from all of us — individuals, communities and the nation as a whole — to achieve a healthier society.”

The IOM is part of the National Academies and makes recommendations on health issues to the federal government.

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, comes during three days of Centers for Disease Control meetings on the topic of obesity.

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