The report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation”, says that both government and industry need to make efforts to reduce unhealthy food and beverage options while increasing access to healthy foods. This is part of a five-pronged approach, which includes:
- Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life
- Create food and beverage environments that ensure that healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice
- Transform messages about physical activity and nutrition
- Expand the roles of health care providers, insurers, and employers
- Make schools a national focal point
Marketing to kids
Among specific recommendations, the report calls on food and beverage companies to “step up” their voluntary efforts on marketing to children up to the age of 17, saying that Americans are surrounded by messages that encourage sedentary activities and consumption of high-calorie foods and drinks.
The IOM said: “All food and beverages specifically marketed to these children should support a diet that accords with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to prevent obesity and risk factors associated with chronic disease.”
It added: “Government agencies should consider setting mandatory rules if a majority of these industries have not adopted suitable standards within two years.”
The report also targets sugar-sweetened beverages as a particular area of focus, because these “contribute more calories and added sugars to our diets than any other food or beverage”, and suggests that government should consider taxing such drinks to help reduce consumption.
For industry, government policy around food and nutrition has long been seen as problematic. The American Beverage Association released a response soon after the IOM report was issued, saying that it commended the Committee for its systematic approach and its recognition that physical activity plays a role in obesity prevention.
“However, advocating discriminatory policies that uniquely focus on sugar-sweetened beverages is the wrong approach,” it said.
Meanwhile, the industry-backed Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) said the report “misguidedly calls for the government and industry decision-makers to actively reduce the number of choices Americans have when they sit down to eat.”
CCF’s J. Justin Wilson said: “Increasing consumers’ options on menus and store shelves is the real key to curbing obesity, not imposing one-size-fits-all policies that completely ignore the importance of personal responsibility.”
The IOM Committee chair and former USDA secretary Dan Glickman said: "As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day. Individuals and groups can't solve this complex problem alone, and that's why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another's impact to speed our progress."
About a third of the US population is obese, and another third is overweight, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and one in three children is overweight or obese. The CDC released a new study on Monday, in which it projected 42% of US adults to be obese by 2030, up from 34% today, and 11% to be severely obese, compared to 6% currently.
The IOM report was released at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, alongside the unveiling of a new HBO documentary series of the same name, due to be screened on May 14 and 15.