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Obesity crisis needs government action, says Lancet report

7 commentsBy Caroline Scott-Thomas , 29-Aug-2011
Last updated on 29-Aug-2011 at 19:47 GMT

The global obesity epidemic needs a fresh approach – including government intervention – claims a series of research papers published in medical journal The Lancet.

The research portrays a bleak outlook for the health of the US population, saying that if the number of obese individuals continues to rise at the current rate, half of American adults will be obese by 2030.

The journal recognizes that using personal responsibility to prevent obesity is important, but it suggests that unless the government instigates policies to encourage people to make healthier choices – like taxing less healthy options and subsidizing healthier foods, for example – more than 50 percent of the US adult population will be obese in less than two decades, and projected costs to treat additional preventable obesity-related disease could increase by $48-66bn per year.

Currently, about a third of US adults are obese and another third are overweight, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among many other changes to the food environment, the researchers also called for a change in the way food is marketed.

The fourth paper in the journal’s series, “Changing the future of obesity: science, policy, and action”, examined ways in which different stakeholders could affect the influence and sustainability of anti-obesity policies, and called for a “sustained worldwide effort to monitor, prevent, and control obesity.”

The authors wrote: “Governments are the most important actors in reversing the obesity epidemic, because protection and promotion of public goods, including public health, is a core responsibility.”

However, the food and beverage industry also has a role in helping prevent rising obesity rate, the authors said. In particular, the industry should continue to reformulate products, particularly through reducing sugar, salt and unhealthy fats; it should apply voluntary restrictions on all forms of marketing promotions of foods high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fat to children and adolescents; it should ensure that food labeling and health claims meet high standards; support public health efforts; and share relevant data to help government assess progress toward targets, while protecting commercially sensitive information, the authors said.

Government interventions continually form part of the discussion around the issue of obesity prevention in the United States, from the possibility of taxing sugary soft drinks and candy, to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.

“The most powerful activities by the private sector relevant to public policy are undoubtedly lobbying activities, which often undermine policies aimed at reducing obesity—eg, in relation to regulations on marketing to children, traffic light labelling, and taxes on unhealthy foods,” the authors wrote.

The Lancet series on obesity can be accessed here . Free registration is required.

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7 comments (Comments are now closed)

Four Components of Goverment Intervention

The reason government needs to get more involved can be seem in the consequences of not getting involved. With a 50% obese nation, think about what that means. Can we function with half the country not just fat, but obese. No one argues healthy people are more productive then unhealthy people. Because most of the obese people come out of the lower SES class many with no health insurance, who pays for their problems, those with the money of course. They pay in higher health insurance and taxes. How does the nation defend its self if we cannot find healthy young men and women that volunteer for the job, we than have to draft those that do not want the job.

This paper is right on time, however, it's not a new idea. As part of my doctoral studies, I wrote a paper and sent it to the Obama administration 2 years ago concerning this topic. Here are the highlights:

1- Government needs to regulate the fast food industry even more then they regulate the tobacco industry. While some foods chains offer healthy options most still contribute to our growing fat and sick society. Goal - very few if any bad options for fast food. There are lots of healthy fast food options, and size portion can be regulated, but most important somethings need to be banned from the menu; big gulps, supper size meals.

2. Government needs to require the educational system -(K-12)- to implement heath, nutrition, and fitness education each year of school. Goal - Students should graduate from high school experts in their own health and wellness. Lets start teaching health early not not quit until children graduate from high school.

3. Government should implement a health tax just like the Social Security Tax, and provide the option to get a rebate for meeting certain health standards. Meet these standard get a possible subsidized large thank you rebate, fail to meet them and we have a little money to support you when you get sick. Example of standards could be: physical once a year; dental check up; verified exercise program-signed off by certified fitness people; quit smoking; yearly verified health, wellness, and nutrition education; verified participation in health coach fitness program. Because the vast majority of the obese come out of the lower SES group they will be the ones this effects the most, and they are the ones that file taxes the earliest for the rebate, this will act as an incentive -not solution- to change behavior.

4. Government incentive corporate health programs where companies are encourage to help develop healthy behavior among employees.

If this sounds extreme now, it will probably sound like a great idea in 2030 if we do not reverse the obesity problem soon.

Thoughts and comments are welcomed!

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Posted by Clint
01 September 2011 | 01h35

Remove Government Subsidies, Don't Add New Taxes

This is a good article, but I see no mention of the fact that the U.S. government subsidizes the production of corn, which is turned into our number one source of calories, High Fructose Corn Syrup. (Source: Mercola.com)

Let's remove the federal incentive to use this damaging sweetener, rather than add one more layer of taxation. It wouldn't make much sense to subsidize a major source of the obesity problem on one hand and then spend more money to punish taxpayers for responding to this federal "stimulus" to the food processors and farmers.

Making the American public pay for both the problem and the remedy doesn't seem right.

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Posted by Paul Kemp
30 August 2011 | 16h06

increases and improved access to treatment

Food and food marketing is not going away in capitalist nations, no matter how many taxes or regs are stipulated or enforced. If people who want and NEED to overeat, they will. If people want to continue to lead sedentary lives, they will. What government CAN do, IMO is offer better access to BEST care for people of ALL SES groups -- not just the wealthy or motivated -- ie -- those who are not wealthy, but comfortable enough that they prioritize their health-care monies for treatment and/or prevention of obesity for themselves and their loved ones. I have worked several years in the health-care sector with obese people. People of low means often DO want to change, lose weight, become more active, and get and be healthier. But, they are just as frustrated as their wealthier brothers and sisters of society when it comes to handling the myriad of physiological and emotional reasons why they continue to overeat, under-exercise, and abuse their bodies. They need the motivational counselling, the nutritional interventions, the follow-up sessions, the spas and sports facilities,too! Perhaps if government could help subsidize these types of facilities and needed interventions, the cycle could be broken. Pilot studies, at least, worth a try.

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Posted by MJ Overwater
30 August 2011 | 15h34

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