Institute of Medicine’s Childhood Obesity Report Receives Praise, Criticism
Anti-obesity advocates and food industry representatives "generally praised" a report released on Thursday by an Institute of Medicine committee that included recommendations to reduce the prevalence of obesity in children, but some of the recommendations "immediately met resistance" from HHS officials, who said that the establishment of a task force to "develop advertising and marketing guidelines is outside the agency's authority," the Washington Post reports (Stein, Washington Post, 10/1). The committee -- which included 19 pediatricians, educators, food industry experts and attorneys appointed by IOM to study childhood obesity -- found that nine million U.S. children over age six are considered obese. In addition, 52% of boys and 32% of girls ages 14 and older consume three or more eight-ounce servings of soda daily (California Healthline, 9/30). The report recommended that:
- The federal government establish a task force to coordinate all federal childhood anti-obesity programs, establish a national conference to draft new guidelines to limit advertising and marketing of junk food to children and pass a law to allow the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the guidelines (Washington Post, 10/1);
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the help of outside experts and organizations, establish nutritional standards for all brand-name foods and beverages sold on school grounds (Hellmich, USA Today, 10/1);
FDA revise the Nutrition Facts label on foods to "prominently display" the calorie content for the average amount consumed in one sitting;
- Schools encourage physical education and other programs that allow students to exercise at least 30 minutes daily and measure the weight of students annually;
- Restaurants list the calorie content and nutrition information of their food and work to provide healthy alternatives;
- Food manufacturers have the ability to make more health claims about products when evidence exists;
- Parents encourage children to eat more healthfully and exercise and limit to two hours or less per day the amount of time children use a computer or television;
- Communities work to make walking and bicycling more safe for residents (California Healthline, 9/30); and
- Physicians measure the body mass index of children on a regular basis (Washington Post, 10/1).
IOM committee members said that if their recommendations are not followed, "the country's already overwhelmed health care system will face a wave of heart disease, diabetes and cancer patients dwarfing that of the baby boom generation," the Houston Chronicle reports (Berger, Houston Chronicle, 9/30). Thomas Robinson, co-author of the report and an associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University, said, "This is something that's going to require not only action but difficult action. It's not just a matter of people making healthier individual choices. It's a matter of making some tough decisions in the way we do business, in the way we feed children in schools. It's going to require investment, and it's going to require a real prolonged campaign" (Sevrens Lyons, San Jose Mercury News, 10/1).
Jeffrey Koplan of Emory University, a former CDC director and chair of the IOM committee, said, "We call for action to be taken immediately, given the alarming rate at which childhood obesity is increasing in America. This report is calling for fundamental changes in our society. Parents and families acting alone cannot reverse the climbing rates of obesity. Changes are needed in our schools and in communities, as well as the national level" (Washington Post, 10/1). Committee member and health expert from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Shiriki Kumanyika said, "This is not something that can happen overnight" (O'Brien, Baltimore Sun, 10/1). Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who served as chair of the Senate committee that requested the IOM report in 2002, said, "Given the right leadership from the White House," HHS and USDA, "I think we can make some great strides in a very short period of time" (Burros, New York Times, 10/1).
In a statement, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "The report makes clear that the fight against obesity begins at home. We welcome the IOM as a partner in fighting the incidence of overweight children and look forward to engaging every sector of society so we can help Americans live longer, healthier lives" (HHS release, 9/30). Thompson added, "Accurate, helpful information will allow them to make wise food choices at home, at supermarkets and in restaurants" (Schmid, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/30). However, Christina Beato, acting assistant secretary for health at HHS, questioned some of the IOM committee recommendations. She said, "We don't control advertising. To say we are going to develop guidelines for something we have no control over, how wise is that?" Robert Earl of the National Food Processors Association added that the establishment of nutritional guidelines for all brand-name foods sold on school grounds "likely will create more of a 'good food, bad food' environment and create a host of mixed messages." He added, "That could eliminate some very wholesome and nutritious options that are part of good, nutritious diet" (Washington Post, 10/1).
In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers of America said that to address the issue of childhood obesity, "we will need to emphasize positive, motivational messages and tools across society, rather than relying on official restrictions or negative messages" (New York Times, 10/1). Richard Martin, a GMA spokesperson, said, "There's no need to change the guidelines. There are plenty of areas we do need to make changes, such as increasing funding for physical education in our schools. ... The schools are a great place to start" (Lee, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/30).
PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Thursday included an interview with Koplan about the IOM committee report (Brown, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 9/30). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer.
NPR's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday" will include a discussion on the issue of childhood obesity and the role of schools. Guests on the program will include Robert Ferry, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center; Autumn Dawn Galbreath, director of the University of Texas Disease Management Center and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center; Henry McGill, senior scientist emeritus in the Department of Physiology and Medicine at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research; and Phyllis Priess, nursing coordinator for the San Antonio Independent School District (Flatow, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 10/1). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer at 6 p.m. ET.