The World Health Organization has classified obesity as a global epidemic, but the US heads the list with more than two-thirds of the population either overweight or obese. Twelve percent of American children aged two to 19 are overweight or obese, a figure the government has said it hopes to reduce to five percent by 2010.
The CDC report, entitled Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States, is intended to help communities assess policy and instigate changes on a local level to deal with the problem.
It recommends, among other measures, that communities should offer incentives to food retailers to locate in “underserved areas”, and to offer healthier food and beverage choices.
The CDC also said that there is evidence that providing coupons for healthy foods to groups such as university students, low-income seniors and those receiving services from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) improves nutrition in the long term.
“For example, one community-based intervention indicated that WIC recipients who received weekly $10 vouchers for fresh produce increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables compared with a control group and sustained the increase 6 months after the intervention,” it said.
In addition, the CDC emphasized linking communities with local farms, through farmers’ markets and encouraging pick-your-own initiatives.
The reasoning behind this as a way to prevent and treat obesity is partly the increased nutritional value of freshly-picked produce, the CDC said.
“Experts suggest that these mechanisms have the potential to increase opportunities to consume healthier foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, by possibly reducing costs of fresh foods through direct sales; making fresh foods available in areas without supermarkets; and harvesting fruits and vegetables at ripeness rather than at a time conducive to shipping, which might improve their nutritional value and taste.”
The document also includes a number of suggested strategies for increasing physical activity in local communities, especially for children, as well as proposals to help increase the availability of healthy foods and beverages in public foodservice venues, and strategies to control their pricing.
The food and beverage industry has been under pressure to take some responsibility for obesity in recent years and has tended to take a dual approach to the issue, by both reformulating products to contain less saturated fat and sugar (as well as salt), and by promoting physical activity.