Friday, February 18, 2011

The United States of Obesity


Click to enlarge.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and not only in the United States. In the wealthy world, only Finland and Canada have reversed national trends. Here, some estimate that as many as 60% of Americans are overweight and that more than 30% are obese. Obesity is a risk factor in cancer, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and even asthma.

In their article "Halting the Obesity Epidemic: A Public Health Policy Approach,"Marion Nestle and Michael F. Jacobson make a series of public health policy recommendations in areas of education, food labeling and advertising, food assistance programs, health care and training, transportation and urban development, taxes, and policy development. I've selected one from each area to provide an idea of the complexity and extent of an issue that has little to do with individual willpower (see the others on p20, Figure 3 in the article linked above).

  • Require instruction in nutrition and weight management as part of the school curriculum for future health education teachers;
  • Restrict advertising of high calorie, low nutrient foods on television shows commonly watched by children 
  • Protect school food programs by eliminating the sale of soft drinks, candy bars, and foods high in calories, fat or sugar in school buildings
  • Require health care providers to learn about behavioral risks for obesity and how to counsel patients about health-promoting behavior change
  • Provide funding and other incentives for bicycle paths recreation centers, swimming pools, parks and sidewalks. (Note: We didn't let our kids walk to school, even though we didn't live in anything remotely resembling a high crime area and even though we lived near enough to school for them to walk. But they would have to negotiate too many arterials for us to be comfortable with the idea. So, they rode a bus.)
  • Remove sales taxes on, or provide other incentives for, the purchase of exercise equipment.
  • Produce a Surgeon General's Report on Obesity Prevention.
Nestle and Jacobson made their recommendations ten years ago. We haven't gotten any thinner since.

Click here to read what the Centers for Disease Control has to say about obesity (and to see more maps).