Institute of Medicine Recommends Holistic Approach to Obesity Prevention

June 19, 2012

By Ashley Hofmann, HSC public policy intern

Last month, the Institute of Medicine released a comprehensive report outlining necessary changes to American culture to combat the rising obesity rates among children and adults. With so much focus on the current obesity epidemic, this report stands out because it offers multiple strategies that, when working together, can speed up prevention efforts and turn around the increase in obesity rates in just a few years.

For an in-depth look at the complete five recommendations and corresponding action steps the The Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention prescribed, the 462-page document can be found here. For a quick overview, check out the “at a glance” infographic at the end of this post.

The committee used a systems approach to analyze obesity prevention measures that would be most effective when implemented together. They specifically looked at how strategies would reinforce each other to have a greater impact or create unintended side effects. An important factor in these strategies is time: the committee focused on changes that can be implemented now to prevent rising obesity rates over the coming decade. With this whole-system approach, five areas, or environments, were identified as places where it will be most important to make changes in the daily lives of Americans. These areas include :

  • Increased opportunities for physical activity
  • Wider availability of healthy foods and beverages
  • Marketing and education messages to the public emphasizing physical activity and nutrition
  • Health care systems and places of work that offer obesity prevention support
  • Schools as a national focal point of obesity prevention

For each environment, the report makes suggestions of who should be involved and what steps they can take to assist in obesity prevention. Everyone plays a role in this effort, from local city councils to members of Congress, from foundations to private business leaders, from local education agencies to the USDA.

A significant feature of this report is that schools were identified as one of the most critical places to implement changes.

The committee points out that children spend half of their waking hours at school facilities and consume one third to one half of their calories while at school. As a result, any positive changes made in this environment can have a huge impact on current childhood obesity rates. They can also have a powerful impact on the future rates of adult obesity, because many overweight or obese children grow up to become overweight or obese adults. The committee proposed three strategies to prevent obesity in schools:

  • Require 60 minutes of physical activity for students every school day
  • Increase the nutritional standards of the foods made available to students
  • Teach students the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices for lifelong wellness

The committee takes thoughtful steps in mentioning the important role of leadership and community participation in making the recommended changes for obesity prevention a reality, further acknowledging that low-income families often live in neighborhoods without access to many health resources and lack the organized voice to fully represent their views.

This recommendation connects closely to work HSC does on the ground, empowering students, parents, teachers and many others in communities most affected by health disparities to create healthy environments where all children can grow and learn.

Students who participate in HSC’s Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest learn to create and cook healthy menus. The team of Parents United for Healthy Schools, an HSC-led coalition, has advocated successfully for recess and stronger nutrition standards in Chicago Public Schools. Teachers who complete the Fit to Learn professional development program are taught practical ways to bring health and wellness into the classroom experience. Through the Go for the Gold campaign, over 75 Chicago schools have made improvements in health and wellness.

HSC continues to work closely with many stakeholders to improve health and wellness opportunities in Chicago and across the nation and applauds the committee’s efforts to shed light on the system-level forces that are shaping the obesity epidemic and the multi-level changes needed to reverse the trend.

Plus: Check out the “report at a glance” graphic from the Institute of Medicine, below, for an overview of the issues and recommendations!

APOP_infographic

Source: Institute of Medicine