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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Measures to Combat Childhood Obesity Not Effective Enough
By Kathy Jones
Sep 14, 2006, 12:48

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14 Sep, ( - The effect of childhood obesity on the overall health of America's children and adolescents is slowly beginning to sink in, but measures to tackle it are not effective enough, says a new report by the Institute of Medicine.

The report predicts that at least 20 percent of all children in the US will be obese by 2010 if strict measures were not put in pace to check childhood obesity. Current efforts to tackle obesity and overweight in children can be best described as "fragmented and small in scale," the report added.

The Institute of Medicine report titled, Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up? was released on Wednesday. Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which funded the report said that the very health of the country was threatened by the childhood obesity epidemic.

"Leaders in Washington, in our home states and towns need to accept this cold hard fact: That if we do not reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, millions of kids and our society will be robbed of a healthy and hopeful future," Lavizzo-Mourey said.

Childhood obesity is a growing menace to the society. In recent years, this epidemic has risen alarmingly. Worldwide rates of the incidence of overweight and obesity are getting out of control and the World Health Organization says its nothing short of a global pandemic.

The CDC defines children "at risk of overweight" as those with a body-mass index that is 85 to 94 percent more than other kids of the same age and gender. The CDC defines "overweight" as those kids who are 95 percent heavier than others of their category.

A recent report published in the April 5 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association had revealed that obesity levels are peaking in American children.

The report, based on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted during 2003-2004 took the height and weight measurements of 4,000 U.S. children and adolescents and found that 33.6 percent of children and adolescents were overweight in 2003-04. This figure was worse as compared to as compared to about 28.2 percent in NHANES 1999-2000 study.

In 2002, the obesity rate for children and teens was 16 percent; by 2004 it had risen to 17.1 percent; it's expected to climb to 20 percent by 2010, the current IOM report says.

Sedentary lifestyle practices are the main reason behind this explosion of overweight or obese children.

Obesity brings with it a lot of associated problems like type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, heart disease, poor self-esteem, and a lower health-related quality of life. It is noted that type 2 diabetes is at an all-time high in American children.

At the International Congress on Obesity in Sydney earlier this month experts warned that childhood obesity threatened to destroy all healthcare systems in the world.

However the IOM report says that short-term gains are being made, but these are not enough. Federal policies have been put into place to ensure that better nutrition and physical activity in schools is encouraged. Children are also urged to play more and exercise accordingly.

But the report says that positive changes in the health of children will require years of sustained effort, evaluation, and resources. Former director of the CDC, Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, chairman of a panel that wrote the report, says that although the measures are there, they are too little, too less.

"We are still not doing enough to prevent childhood obesity, and the problem is getting worse," he pointed out. The monitoring efforts are also very inconsistent, he said.

"We also observed that many environments do not support healthy behaviors for our children and youth," Koplan said. "In some communities, fruits and vegetables are not readily available, especially for families on limited household budgets. Certain neighborhoods don't offer safe places for children to play."

The need of the hour is collective responsibility rather than asking a single sector to bear the cost of controlling childhood obesity. Koplan said that the food industry should convey consistent information to consumers that support a healthy lifestyle.

In May under pressure from lawmakers, several top beverage makers in the country agreed not to sell their soft drinks at schools. This is recognized as one aspect where kids get unwanted calories. Similarly Koplan says that communities must encourage programs that emphasize the need to fight fat.

Obesity experts said no single measure would curb the epidemic, but they hoped the report would provide some direction.

"There's a lot of hand-wringing about childhood obesity, but the current national response is like putting a Band-Aid on a brain tumor," says Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group. "There are little things going on here and there, but there isn't the coordinated national action that is needed. We need a whole shift in thinking about how often to eat, what to eat and how much to eat."

The American Academy of Pediatrics in a policy statement in May called on doctors to take an active interest in measuring the weight of their patients. The policy statement was titled Active Healthy Living: Prevention of Childhood Obesity Through Increased Physical Activity and was published in the journal Pediatrics.

"The promotion of decreased caloric intake and increased energy expenditure will need to take place within all aspects of society," the report says. Physicians should encourage "healthy nutrition, reducing sedentary time, and increasing physical activity levels while providing education and health supervision about regular physical activity and reduced sedentary time to families in their practices," it adds.

Dr. David L. Katz, an associate professor of public health and director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine said that no single cause can be pinpointed for childhood obesity and hence no single measure would work against it.

"Factors that favor obesity assault us daily, from calorie-dense fast food to deceptive advertising, to labor-saving technology. No single factor created the obesity epidemic, and no single program will fix it," he said.

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