One third of Americans are overweight and nearly a third of people under 20 are obese. We asked our Zintro experts to discuss the current leading ideas, approaches, or policies that are being developed to address the obesity epidemic in the US.
Megan Ware, a clinical dietician, says that the obesity epidemic is hitting the US hard. “A third of today’s youth are already overweight and putting themselves at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and infertility,” Ware points out. “This younger generation may be the first to not outlive their parents. Outrageous portion sizes, frequent drive thru meals, increased snacking, less walking or biking to school, and less opportunities to participate in gym class or recess are all factors contributing to weight gain.”
To gain control of this issue, Ware says that parents must become role models for their children in leading a healthy lifestyle. “Parents should take computers, TVs, and video games out of the bedroom and limit all screen time to one hour after school. Adolescents are currently spending an average of 7.5 hrs a day behind some type of screen,” she says. “Offer only milk, water, or low to no-calorie beverages with meals and snacks. Sodas, juice, and even sports drinks are filled with empty calories and loads of sugar. Limit fast food to a once a month treat, and take advantage of newly offered nutritious side options such as fruit instead of fries. Just like adults, kids need 30- 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Make it a family affair and take a walk after dinner, go roller-blading, swimming, or play catch in the yard.”
As an example, Ware highlights the Let’s Move! campaign, an initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama that focuses on several goals:
- Arm parents with information to support healthy choices at home,
- Make sure that every child has access to healthy affordable food,
- Help kids to become more physically active, and
- Provide healthier food choices at school.
In accordance with the initiative, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating the first-ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity to develop a national action plan and maximize federal resources to achieve those five goals.
In addition, Ware outlined the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) that emphasize three major goals:
• Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight;
• Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood;
• Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains.
Megan Cermak, a wellness consultant, says that obesity is a growing epidemic nationwide. “Reviews have been conducted on national efforts to address increasing access to healthy food and beverages and decreasing access to foods of minimal nutritional value and sugar sweetened beverages. Nationally, cities are implementing jurisdiction-wide regulations, local resolutions, and joining national movements to support efforts,” she says.
Cermak recommends some jurisdiction-wide regulations/ordinances:
- The Menu Labeling Ordinance was signed by President Obama as part of healthcare reform. This federal law requires restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to clearly and conspicuously post on all menus and menu boards the number of calories contained in each menu. The law also requires vending machine operators with at least 20 machines to post calorie information next to each item.
- An initiative that is not federal law but has been adopted by progressive cities is an ordinance that bans trans fat, vegetable shortening, margarine, or any kind of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This applies to all food establishments, including mobile food vendors and caterers.
- Progressive communities have adopted ordinances prohibiting incentive items (toys, games, coupons, tokens, tickets, redemption codes) linked to the purchase of a food item or meal that has excessive calories, sodium, fat, saturated fat, sugars or trans fat; or the purchase of a beverage that has excessive calories, fat, sugars, added non-nutritive sweeteners, or caffeine.
- Cities like New York City have recommended ordinances that promote fresh produce cart permits for vendors in specific areas where fruit and vegetable consumption is low.
Cermak outlines national resolutions, such as
- National Salt Reduction Initiative, which is a coalition of local and state health authorities and health organizations working to help food manufacturers and restaurants voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in products.
- Resolution to Reduce Sugar Sweetened Beverages, which assures access to clean, potable drinking water, limits access to sugar sweetened beverages (SSB), promotes access to healthful alternatives to SSB, limits marketing of SSBs, and decreases relative costs of healthy alternatives through differential pricing of SSBs.
- Healthy Vending Resolution sets nutritional requirements for food and beverages sold in vending machines and may require products meeting nutrition requirements are priced at or below items not meeting nutritional requirements.
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