Schools may be central to fighting the U.S. obesity epidemic, and policymakers, politicians and community leaders must remake U.S. society to encourage better eating and more exercise, experts reported on Tuesday.
Children need to get at least an hour of exercise a day at school – a difficult goal at a time when recess is often limited to 10 or 15 minutes a day – and Americans need help in making exercise a regular part of their daily lives, the influential Institute of Medicine said in a report on obesity.
The report, released at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Weight of the Nation" conference, also recommends making healthier foods and drinks more widely available and getting employers on board with encouraging exercise and better eating.
Otherwise, the nation will sink under the weight of a population burdened with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other ills. Two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, and a report released Monday projected the obesity rate will grow to 42 percent by 2030.
“Obesity-related illness is estimated to carry an annual cost of $190.2 billion,” the report reads.
The Institute, a non-profit, independent organization that advises the federal government on health issues, recommends requiring at least 60 minutes per day of physical education and activity in schools, industry-wide guidelines on which foods and beverages can be marketed to children and how and expansion of workplace wellness programs. Restaurants must provide healthier, low-calorie options for children and doctors need to play a much bigger role in obesity prevention.
"As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day," said committee chair Dan Glickman of the Aspen Institute and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“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."