Reducing portion sizes and spreading information on healthy eating are just some of the initiatives that the food industry needs to take in order to help prevent childhood obesity, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
Published this month, the report examines the nation's progress in preventing the spread of the epidemic in children, and provides recommendations for further action needed from industry, government, communities and schools.
According to the institute, although diverse efforts have already been made to promote healthy eating and increase physical activity in children, these have remained fragmented and small-scale.
The new report, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, claims there is a "marked underinvestment in the prevention of childhood obesity", and a "lack of systematic tracking and evaluation of childhood obesity prevention interventions".
The IOM's update follows an action plan it published last year at the request of Congress in order to reduce the number of obese children in the US.
The original report, "Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance," analyzed behavioral, social, cultural and other environmental factors involved in childhood obesity, and identified approaches for obesity prevention efforts from a variety of sectors, including the government, industry and schools.
The IOM's Food and Nutrition Board appointed a 13-member committee made up of experts in child health, obesity and the food industry, to examine progress from these sectors.
The committee based its evaluation on three regional symposia, two public workshops and a literature review.
"Things are starting to change. But the government needs to be supportive and directive, with the latest science being used to decide what's to be done," said John Peters, food and beverage technology, Procter & Gamble, and also a member of IOM's committee on progress in preventing childhood obesity.
"This is just the beginning. The food industry is starting to make changes, but it is difficult to take risks if there is confusion or disagreement in the health community. With clear data backed by the health community and the government, the industry will be able to respond," he told FoodNavigator-USA.com.
According to the report, the food industry - including food and beverage manufacturers, restaurants and retailers - shares key responsibility for supporting childhood obesity prevention goals. But most companies, it said, do not provide enough publicly accessible information about the positive changes made to accurately assess progress.
Recommendations put forth to industry include increasing the proportion of a company's product portfolio and marketing resources devoted to developing, packaging and promoting products that contribute to healthy lifestyles.
Reducing portion sizes is also a crucial development, as well as providing information that promotes healthful diets and regular physical activity.
Finally, the report also recommends engaging in public-private partnerships to promote healthful eating and active lifestyles to children and their families.
Recommendations to government include providing leadership to identify and coordinate priorities for action; evaluating policies and programs designed to address the issue; monitoring progress and conducting research; and disseminating promising practices.
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