Obesity Epidemic “Deadly” Result of Societal Shifts in the 20th Century

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Experts Challenge Legislators, Educators, Urban Planners, Businesses, Nonprofits to Adopt New Tactics to Combat Obesity

WASHINGTON - In the latest issue of the journal Public Health Reports, nutrition professor Marion Nestle and nutrition activist Michael F. Jacobson recommend major governmental and societal changes to reduce the prevalence of obesity. The paper, “Halting the Obesity Epidemic: A Public Health Policy Approach,” urges legislators, researchers, educators, businesses, urban planners, transportation experts, and nonprofit groups to approach obesity in a more creative way and to take immediate action. Specific recommendations include:

  • Mounting large scale mass-media campaigns to promote healthier diets and physical activity;
  • Requiring chain restaurants to provide information about calorie content on menus or menu boards;
  • Designating more downtown areas as pedestrian malls and automobile-free zones; and
  • Having health insurance companies pay for effective weight-loss programs.

   “Americans are consuming more calories than ever before, but certainly are not compensating with increased physical activity,” said Dr. Marion Nestle, Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University (NYU). “The ubiquity of fast food outlets and soda vending machines, the huge increase in portion sizes at restaurants, the decline in school physical education programs, and the many hours spent on the Internet and watching television are all contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

   “Public health officials need to recognize that obesity is a natural consequence of an auto-oriented, TV-watching lifestyle. To prevent obesity, we need to change our lifestyle, not just admonish people to eat less,” said Dr. Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “We need national leadership to get us out of the drive-thru and off the couch if we want to stop the epidemic of obesity.”

   In their article, Nestle and Jacobson urge the federal government to spearhead an annual “No-TV Week,” saying that television watching is a major sedentary activity and one that also bombards viewers with countless commercials for high-calorie foods. In addition, they urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to emphasize, at their upcoming (May 30 - 31) National Nutrition Summit, changes in government policies and corporate practices, including a ban in schools on the sale of soft drinks, candy bars, and other foods high in calories, fat, or sugar.

   Nestle and Jacobson conclude: “Without such a national commitment and effective new approaches to making the environment more favorable to maintaining healthy weight, we doubt that the current trends can be reversed.”

   Public Health Reports is a journal published by the United States Public Health Services.