Health of our community – Not a one-solution problem

June 19, 2013 

America's obesity epidemic is so deeply rooted that it will take dramatic and systemic measures to fix it, according to a recent report from the highly influential Institute of Medicine.

For years, we have heard the advice to eat less and move more, and yet the number of obese Americans has increased. Although that advice will never be out of date we have to ask the question, what changed? The environment, that’s what has changed.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has projected that by 2030, 42 percent of American adults will be obese, compared to 34 percent now, and 11 percent will be severely obese compared to the current 6 percent. Another one-third of American adults are overweight, and one-third of children aged 2 to 19 are overweight or obese.

So what caused the percentage of obese adults to more than double since 1980, when 15 percent were in that category? Among children, it has soared to 17 percent from 5 percent in the past 30 years. One of the reasons is that in 1977, children 2 to 18 consumed an average of 1,842 calories per day. By 2006, that had climbed to 2,022.

Historically, there has been a tendency to look for a single solution, like putting an extra tax on drinks that have a high content of sugar or banning the marketing of unhealthy food to children. However, this report says this is not a one-solution problem. There is no magic bullet.

The traditional view blames obesity on a failure of personal responsibility and individual willpower, but people cannot always exercise personal choice because their options may be limited.

For instance, a lack of sidewalks makes it impossible to walk safely to work or school in many communities. So while 20 percent of trips between school and home among kids 5 to 15 were on foot in 1977, that figure had dropped to 12.5 percent by 2001.

Since preventing obesity at a young age is easier than reversing it, the Institute of Medicine report calls for making schools the focus of anti-obesity efforts. Recent data shows that only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools provide daily physical education for all students. The IOM recommends that primary and secondary students have at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Although our environment may have changed, let’s all make an effort to find different ways to have daily physical activity and to pay attention to the healthy lifestyle choices that are available to us.

Judy Schmoeger, a longtime resident of Lee’s Summit, is owner and general manager of Anytime Fitness.

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