WASHINGTON – A study released Wednesday by the Institute of Medicine shows obesity rates for American children and youth may soar to 20 percent by 2010.
The premise of the study,”Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up,” states that the number of obese children has crept steadily upward in the past four years.
In 2002,the U.S. obesity rate for children and youth peaked at 16 percent. By 2004,the rate had grown to 17.1 percent. The report predicts that these rates will continue to climb if left unchecked by the community.
Five members of the 13-member committee that compiled the report held a briefing to explain their results and recommendations.
These increasingly disturbing statistics make the report's message urgent,said committee Chair Jeffrey Koplan,vice president for academic health affairs at Emory University.
“The remarkable and unexpected rise in obesity among our children and youth in a relatively short time span is one of the 21st century's most critical public health challenges,” Koplan said. “And this state has worsened since the last report” two years ago.
Several industries,including the food and beverage industry,number among the groups the report holds responsible.
However,the food and beverage industry has made many changes to improve nutrition among consumers,said Alison Kretser,senior director of scientific and nutrition policy at the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
“The food industry is committed to being in this for the long haul,” Kretser said. “It's already taken a leadership role in the reformation of the kind of food offered. We're collaborating and very much willing to work with public schools.”
Changes have been made at the consumer level,she said.
“There's been a movement toward fewer trans fat products,more whole grain products,with a greater selection of healthy foods,” Kretser said. “In particular,there is an increase in packaged portion sizes of 100 calories,which are very popular. There's also an in-store promotion of the food pyramid,which promotes the kind of food the government wants consumers to be eating.”
Although the study recognizes that some industry groups have made attempts to manage the issue,these groups should commit to bigger reforms,Koplan said.
For example,he said,industries should track how much of their budgets are devoted to promoting healthy products and work to increase it.
The report's recommendations also represent a call to action directed to all levels of government,said committee member Eduardo Sanchez,Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner.
Federal and state governments have a moral obligation to fund schools so they can improve student physical activity and provide healthier food,Koplan said.
“We also observed that many environments do not support healthy behaviors for our children and youth,” he said. “In some communities,fruits and vegetables are not readily available or affordable,especially for families on limited household budgets. Certain neighborhoods do not offer safe places to stay.”
The panel proposed that neighborhoods should work with local government and other organizations to provide more opportunities for active play.
The study found that recent immigrants and low-income minorities have a higher risk of obesity.
“Specific attention must be given to children and youth from these populations to lower risk for becoming obese,” Koplan said.
Sanchez emphasized that the task force aimed to do more than study the issue – it intends to become active in solving the problem by bringing groups to pool their resources.
“We can't just sit on our hands and not do anything,” Sanchez said.