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.