PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
- CDC report shows United States still not eating enough fruits and veggies
- Infographic details 'what works to get kids active'
- Impact of menu labeling on consumer behavior: A 2008–2012 update
- Salud America! releases set of materials exploring the lack of access to healthy foods in Latino neighborhoods
- Sugary drink consumption down among U.S. kids
- Soda size limits could aid fight against obesity, experts say
- Infant care may help explain race-linked obesity gap
- Junk food bans help school kids avoid unhealthy snacks
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
- USDA’s new nutrition standards mean healthier food options in school vending machines and snack bars
- Nickelodeon resists critics of food ads
- NYC refreshes anti-sugary drink campaign with new ads
- U.S. doctors' group labels obesity a disease
- Kellogg's, Coca-Cola offer more low-calorie foods, but are people healthier?
On Nov. 12, 2013, ObesityWeek is hosting a preconference workshop called “Mobile Health Boot Camp for Pediatric Obesity.” The workshop will use prevention and treatment of pediatric obesity as model test beds for mobile health (mHealth) research and will offer a primer on mHealth from the ground up. It will include sessions on how to develop a transdisciplinary team for mHealth applications in prevention and treatment of childhood obesity and how to capture enormous amounts of data in real time.
- Dr. Josh Cothran, Georgia Tech Research Institute
- Dr. Erin Hennessy, National Institutes of Health
- Dr. John Lach, University of Virginia
- Dr. Heather Patrick, National Institutes of Health
- Dr. Parisa Rashidi, Northwestern University
- Dr. Bonnie Spring, Northwestern University
This preconference session is part of ObesityWeek, a unique, international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, surgical intervention and prevention of obesity. Combining both The Obesity Society (TOS) and American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) annual meetings, ObesityWeek brings together world-renowned experts in obesity to share innovation and breakthroughs in science unmatched around the globe.
The preconference workshop is supported by the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR). To learn more about NCCOR, visit http://www.nccor.org.
PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by children and adults is an important step toward preventing and reducing obesity in the United States and lowering the risk of developing many chronic diseases.
The newest edition of the State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables (2013) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides state-by-state information on fruit and vegetable consumption. It also presents environmental and policy indicators that measure a state's ability to support consumption of fruits and vegetables through increased access and availability in schools and communities.
The report shows that while fruit and vegetable consumption is high in some states, overall fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States is low. The report describes the many ways that states are attempting to improve access to fruits and vegetables by establishing policies that make it easier to get fruits and vegetables into communities, schools, and childcare settings. The report can be used to describe how states support the consumption of fruits and vegetables; monitor progress and celebrate state successes; and identify opportunities for improvement in fruit and vegetable access. Monitoring and evaluating consumption of fruits and vegetables over time may highlight the many factors that play a role in improving fruit and vegetable consumption.
A new infographic by Active Living Research (ALR), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), shows the estimated amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, in minutes, that children could get from several distinct school and community policy changes. A combination of these can help kids meet the national recommendation of daily physical activity. The data is based on a study led by Dr. David Bassett, funded by RWJF through ALR, and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine earlier this year.
More chain restaurants and cafeterias are labeling menus to provide consumers with calorie and other information about standard menu items. This trend is driven by the adoption of menu labeling regulations and other policies by states, localities, and institutions as they seek to prevent and reduce obesity. This research review examines the recent evidence on consumers' support for providing nutrition information at the point of purchase, awareness of nutritional information, purchase intentions, and actual purchases. It builds upon findings discussed in a Healthy Eating Research synthesis released in June 2009. Policy implications and future research needs are highlighted.
Salud America! releases set of materials exploring the lack of access to healthy foods in Latino neighborhoods
This summer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Salud America! is releasing six packages of research materials—each with a research review, issue brief, video, and infographic—on different aspects of Latino childhood obesity issues and potential solutions.
The second package, “Better Food in the Neighborhood,” shows that though many Latino neighborhoods lack healthy food options, introducing supermarkets and famers’ markets; expanding healthy offerings in places like bodegas, and lowering the cost of healthy foods in Latino communities can increase access to healthy, affordable foods and may help lower childhood obesity among Latino kids.
May 29, 2013, Chicago Tribune
By Kathryn Doyle
More evidence that Americans are heeding calls to cut back on sugary drinks appears in a report from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2010, U.S. children got an average of 68 fewer calories per day from sugary drinks than in 2000, according to the analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Both children and adults are drinking less sugar at meals and at snack time, the study also found.
The results are consistent with previous studies showing a decline in consumption of sugar generally, and soda specifically, between 1999 and 2008, said lead author Dr. Brian Kit of CDC's National Center for Health Statistics in Rockville, Md.
There has been no corresponding dip in obesity rates over the decade, though, Kit noted.
"During our 12-year study duration, obesity prevalence, although high, has largely remained stable," [Kit, a member of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research], told Reuters Health.
Whether Americans are compensating for consuming less sugar by taking in more calories in other forms, or perhaps are exercising less, was not investigated in the current study but other research suggests it's probably the latter.
Kit and his colleagues analyzed responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), which include a home interview, a physical examination and a series of questions about diet, from the years 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010.
Participants, roughly 8,500 people each year, were asked what they had eaten in the past 24 hours.
The researchers categorized regular soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened coffees or teas as "sugary drinks." Drinks containing only no-calorie artificial sweeteners were not included.
In 2010, kids ages 2 to 19 got about 155 calories per day from sugary drinks, down 68 calories from the year 2000. Adults took in an average of 151 sugary-drink calories per day, down 45 calories compared to the beginning of the decade.
Soda consumption declined the most, by 67 calories per day for kids. Sports and energy drinks actually went up over the same time period, but in 2010 they still contributed an average of only 10 calories daily for kids.
Among teenagers, sugary beverage intake went down by 84 calories per day, the largest drop for any age group and a significant change, according to Kit.
Because NHANES data are self-reported, the surveys probably underestimate the actual number of calories people eat, but the trend from 2000 to 2010 is encouraging, said Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. "These results are also consistent with industry figures that indicate a steady reduction in soda intake among Americans," Nestle told Reuters Health. "That's good news."
It's too soon to say what caused the drop, Kit said.
"We know there are wide efforts to reduce sugary drink consumption and we show a reduction in sugary drink consumption," he said. "However, we did not look at the effects of specific policies."
It's also too soon to stop encouraging kids to cut back on sugary drinks, according to Nestle.
"It would be even better news if soda companies weren't trying so hard to make up for the shortfall by marketing harder to minorities, low-income groups, and low-income people in developing countries – the very people most at risk for obesity and related conditions," she said.
Soda size limits could aid fight against obesity, experts say
June 12, 2013, U.S. News & World Report
Restricting the sale of large sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages in restaurants and other food service outlets would affect 7.5 percent of Americans each day and have the greatest impact on overweight people, according to a new study.
In an effort to fight obesity, New York City's Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces at eateries, but the law was struck down by the New York Supreme Court in March. An appeal began this week.
In order to assess the effect that such a ban would have nationwide, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health analyzed the records of more than 19,000 people who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2007-2010.
The study found that about 60 percent of Americans consumed sugary drinks daily, but only 7.5 percent of them purchased "super-size" sugary drinks from an eatery on a given day. The rates, however, were somewhat higher for certain groups: 13.6 percent of overweight teens, 12.6 percent of overweight young adults aged 20 to 44, and 8.6 percent of overweight people in general.
The investigators also found that low-income and high-income people were equally likely to buy large sugary drinks from restaurants, which challenges the criticism that a ban on the sale of these drinks at eateries discriminates against the poor.
The researchers said this finding was a surprise because poorer people are more likely to drink sugary beverages than those with higher incomes. But although poor people tend to consume more sugary beverages, it's cheaper for them to buy these drinks at a store and consume them at home, the authors said.
The study, published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used national data but shows that this type of ban would help fight obesity no matter where in the country it was implemented.
"Our findings are clear: A law like this would address one of the fundamental causes of obesity — the growing portion size of sweetened drinks," lead author Dr. Y. Claire Wang, an assistant professor of health policy and management, said in a university news release.
For example, the study authors said, in 1955, a regular-size soda at McDonald's was 7 ounces. The sizes offered today range from a 12-ounce child-size drink to a 32-ounce drink. "Changing social norms is difficult, but as portion sizes have grown, it's useful to establish a new standard," said Wang [a member of the Envision project, an activity of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research].
Another expert, Dr. Sandro Galea, chairman of the department of epidemiology at the Mailman School, pointed out the importance of the study findings.
"[The study] provides critical foundational evidence that the proposed efforts to restrict marketing of large sodas in New York City and elsewhere can have a substantial impact on population health," said Galea, who is also a member of the New York City Board of Health.
June 3, 2013, HealthDay
Certain risk factors during infancy may help explain the higher rate of obesity among black and Hispanic children, according to a new study.
Rapid infant weight gain, early introduction of solid foods, inadequate sleep, and a lack of exclusive breastfeeding are among the early-life risk factors that account for this racial and ethnic disparity in childhood obesity, the study showed. Most of these risk factors, however, can be changed, the researchers said.
"We know that by the age of 2, black and Hispanic children have close to double the rate of obesity of white children in the United States," Dr. Elsie Taveras, chief of general pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, said in a hospital news release.
Taveras led the study while she was at Boston Children's Hospital.
The majority of known early-life risk factors for childhood obesity and overweight are more common among black and Hispanic children, the study found, including:
- Rapid infant weight gain
- Non-exclusive breastfeeding
- Introduction of solid foods before 4 months of age
- Sleeping less than 12 hours daily
- Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages
- Eating fast food frequently
- Having a television in the bedroom
The study followed a group of more than 1,000 children from early pregnancy through age 7. Their mothers were examined at the end of their first and second trimesters. The children were assessed shortly after delivery and again when they were 6 months, 3 years, and 7 years old.
Researchers measured the children's height, weight, and body fat. They also compiled socioeconomic data and information on known obesity risk factors.
The study, published online June 3 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that by the age of 7, black and Hispanic children had nearly double the incidence of obesity or overweight than white children.
"A 2010 White House Task Force report on childhood obesity highlighted the disturbingly increasing trends of obesity among racial and ethnic minority children and the importance of early-life risk factors," Taveras said. "Our study supports that report by demonstrating that a significant percent of these disparities can be explained by early-life risk factors, which has tremendous implications for the development of interventions at all levels. These results are important for all adults who work with young children and their families."
Original source: http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=676914
June 10, 2013, U.S. News & World Report
Elementary schools are less likely to sell unhealthy snack foods and drinks if school districts or states have rules that limit the sale of such products, a new study finds.
However, more than three-quarters of public elementary schools in the United States are located in a state or school district that does not limit the sale of items such as sugary drinks, salty snacks, candy or high-fat milk, according to the research published June 10 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
For the study, researchers examined the types of foods and drinks offered by schools nationwide between 2008-2009 and 2010-2011. Candy, ice cream, cookies, and other sweets were sold by about 32 percent of schools in areas where either school district or state policies limited the sugar content of snack foods, compared with 43 percent of schools where there were no such policies.
Ice cream was sold by just over 10 percent of schools in areas where the state and school district limited the fat content of snack foods, compared with about 21 percent of schools where there was no such policy. Cookies, cakes, and other high-fat baked goods were sold by nearly 12 percent of schools in areas with such a policy and by about 25 percent of schools in areas with no such policy, the investigators found.
In the case of sugary drinks, school district policies had more impact than state laws: Sugar-sweetened beverages were sold by close to 4 percent of schools when school districts banned them, compared with 13 percent of schools when there was no school district ban. However, the sale of sugary beverages by schools was not affected by state bans — especially in the South — where sugary drinks were sold by one-quarter of schools in states that banned the sale of the drinks in schools.
The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its national research program, Bridging the Gap.
"We found that states and districts can influence the types of snacks and drinks sold at school," study lead author Jamie Chriqui, an investigator at Bridging the Gap, said in a foundation news release. "These policies can go a long way in helping kids have healthy choices during the school day, but more states and districts need to get strong policies on the books to have a meaningful impact nationally."
However, Chriqui and colleagues found that many states and school districts do not have specific nutritional rules for school snacks and drinks. Among U.S. elementary schools:
- Seventy-eight percent were in a district and state that did not limit the sodium (salt) content of snacks or ban high-fat milk.
- Seventy-seven percent were in a district and state that allowed the sale of candy.
- Seventy-five percent were in a district and state that did not prohibit the sale of sports drinks, sodas and sugar-sweetened fruit drinks.
- Fifty-eight percent were in a district and state that did not limit the sugar content of snacks.
"Too many of our nation's schools are still selling junk foods and sugary drinks to young children," Chriqui said.
"But the good news is that this is the first generation of children to be enrolled in school at a time when educators and policymakers are focused on preventing childhood obesity — that's why it's so critical to enact or change policies that make schools healthier places for students," she added in the news release.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
USDA’s new nutrition standards mean healthier food options in school vending machines and snack bars
June 27, 2013, USDA Office of Communications
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on June 27 that under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards, America's students will be offered healthier food options during the school day.
"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," said Secretary Vilsack. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools — beyond the federally-supported meals programs. The "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards...reflect USDA's thoughtful consideration and response to the nearly 250,000 comments received on the proposal earlier this year.
"Smart Snacks in School" carefully balances science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating on campus, drawing on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and existing voluntary standards already implemented by thousands of schools around the country, as well as healthy food and beverage offerings already available in the marketplace.
Highlights of the "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards include:
- More of the foods we should encourage. Like the new school meals, the standards require healthier foods, more whole grains, low fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and leaner protein.
- Less of the foods we should avoid. Food items are lower in fat, sugar, and sodium and provide more of the nutrients kids need.
- Targeted standards. Allowing variation by age group for factors such as portion size and caffeine content.
- Flexibility for important traditions. Preserving the ability for parents to send their kids to school with homemade lunches or treats for activities such as birthday parties, holidays, and other celebrations; and allowing schools to continue traditions like fundraisers and bake sales.
- Ample time for implementation. Schools and food and beverage companies will have an entire school year to make the necessary changes, and USDA will offer training and technical assistance every step of the way.
- Reasonable limitations on when and where the standards apply. Ensuring that standards only affect foods that are sold on school campus during the school day. Foods sold at afterschool sporting events or other activities will not be subject to these requirements.
- Flexibility for state and local communities. Allowing significant local and regional autonomy by only establishing minimum requirements for schools. States and schools that have stronger standards than what is being proposed will be able to maintain their own policies.
USDA is focused on improving childhood nutrition and empowering families to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding the availability of healthy food.
America's students now have healthier and more nutritious school meals due to improved nutrition standards implemented as a result of the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov provide quick, easy reference tools for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, and communities.
USDA launched a new $5 million Farm to School grant program in 2012 to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools.
USDA awarded $5.2 million in grants to provide training and technical assistance for child nutrition foodservice professionals and support stronger school nutrition education programs.
Collectively these policies and actions will help combat child hunger and obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation's children; a top priority for the Obama Administration. The interim final rule announced on June 27 is an important component of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to combat the challenge of childhood obesity.
Additionally, an infographic about the Smart Snacks in School rule is available here.
Nickelodeon resists critics of food ads
June 18, 2013, The New York Times
By Brook Barnes and Brian Stelter
One year ago, the Walt Disney Company unveiled a strict new set of nutritional standards and said it would ban ads for noncompliant foods from its child-focused cable channels by 2015. Advocacy groups fighting childhood obesity cheered.
And then they shifted their focus to Nickelodeon, Disney’s archrival and the country’s other major children’s programmer. Exactly when would it be following Disney’s lead?
The answer appears to be never — not only because doing so could hurt Nickelodeon’s bottom line, but because the children’s cable behemoth may have taken enough steps to blunt the attacks.
Despite continued pressure on Nickelodeon to restrict ads for products like Trix and Cocoa Puffs — four United States senators renewed the pleas in a letter to the company last week — the Viacom-owned network has remained defiant. Nutritional standards, it contends, must be decided by regulators and food companies, not Hollywood.
“As an entertainment company, Nickelodeon’s primary mission is to make the highest quality entertainment content in the world for kids,” the company said in a written response to the senators. “That is our expertise. We believe strongly that we must leave the science of nutrition to the experts.”
Money, of course, is a significant factor. Food advertising on Nickelodeon has fallen 45 percent since 2008, according to the company, partly because of its own efforts to cut back on ads for certain sugary drinks and fatty foods, and partly because of self-regulation by food companies.
But food remains Nickelodeon’s third biggest advertising category (behind movies and toys), accounting for roughly 18 percent of annual sales. At a recent meeting on Capitol Hill, according to legislative aides, Viacom lobbyists reiterated this point and emphasized that their children’s networks — Nick, Nick Jr. and TeenNick — are more reliant on advertising than Disney’s flagship Disney Channel, which accepts limited sponsorships but does not accept 30-second spots.
Advertisers spend roughly $950 million annually on television tailored to children under age 12, according to industry estimates. Across all the children’s cable channels tracked by Nielsen, the number of food ads was up 16 percent in the first quarter of the year versus the same quarter a year earlier, far outpacing the increase in all advertising, which was 6 percent.
Nickelodeon, which declined to comment for this article, is dug in for other reasons. Its executives ardently believe that critics, in particular the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), have ignored its many efforts to cut down on junk food ads and promote healthy lifestyles to its viewers.
For years, for instance, Nickelodeon has dedicated 10 percent of its promotional airtime to health and wellness messaging. It has also restricted the licensing of characters like SpongeBob SquarePants on certain junk foods and sent millions of dollars to communities to buy equipment like swing sets, among other initiatives. Once a year, Nickelodeon suspends programming on all of its channels and websites for three hours as part of a program called Worldwide Day of Play. Against that backdrop, analysts say, some critics are having a harder time painting Nickelodeon as an uncaring corporation peddling junk food to children.
“Nickelodeon is not above reproach by any means,” said Dade Hayes, executive editor at the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable, and author of “Anytime Playdate: Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom.” “But they certainly can’t be depicted as an evil Philip Morris-type cabal, either.”
Nevertheless, the pressure on Nickelodeon to take stronger measures has persisted. Last week, four Democratic senators — Richard Blumenthal, Richard J. Durbin, Tom Harkin and John D. Rockefeller IV— prodded by CSPI, asked Nickelodeon in a letter to “promptly take similar action” to Disney and “implement strong nutrition standards.” But it was hardly a fire-breathing missive. “We applaud the initiatives that Nickelodeon has taken to promote healthy lifestyles for children,” the letter said.
Senator Blumenthal said the letter’s gentle tone was intentional. “We want to reason with them,” he said. “We want this to be voluntary, even enthusiastic on their part.”
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, conceded that the volume of food ads on Nickelodeon had gone down.
“Things are moving in the right direction,” she said. “They’re just moving way too slowly.” A study by the center last year found that 69 percent of the food ads on Nickelodeon were for foods deemed unhealthy by the center. In 2005, it was 90 percent.
She dismissed Nickelodeon’s assertion that entertainment companies — particularly ones that do not serve food at theme parks and on cruise ships — have no business deciding nutritional standards.
“They can’t tell that Airheads candy are unhealthy without having a Ph.D. in nutrition?” she asked.
“We’re not expecting perfect standards, but we’re expecting some standards,” she added.
NYC refreshes anti-sugary drink campaign with new ads
June 4, 2013, CBS News
By Michelle Castillo
New York City is trying a new approach to get people to lay off sugary drinks where soda is not the main target.
The city's health department has produced ads warning people that drinking too much sweet teas, sports, and energy drinks and fruit-flavored beverages can lead to obesity and other health problems. The $1.4 million campaign began appearing on TV and buses around the city on June 3, according to CBS New York.
While fruity drinks may sound healthy, they are often loaded with sugars that can be bad, the ads point out. Instead, consumers should try to drink fat-free milk, seltzer, and water, and eat fresh fruit instead of drinking juice. People should downsize their drinks, and be wary of pre-sweetened beverages.
"Non-soda sugary drinks have been marketed as being healthier, with references to fruit and antioxidants, vitamins and energy," New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, a medical doctor, said to Bloomberg Businessweek. "We're trying to warn them that these drinks can have as much or more sugar and calories as soda because we still have a major epidemic of obesity." The ads are a continuation of a "Pouring on the Pounds" campaign that was started in 2009.
Farley pointed out that drinks can often be misleading. A 20-ounce Coke has 240 calories, while the same size Minute Maid lemonade with 3 percent juice has 260 calories. In addition, a 16-ounce orange-mango drink with 30 percent juice may have more than enough of the daily requirements for vitamin A and D, but it also contains high-fructose corn syrup and 230 calories.
More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity has been linked to other conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and some of the leading causes of preventable death.
More than half of New Yorkers are overweight or obese, according to city statistics, and one in four children are obese.
Research presented during March 2013 at the American Heart Association's meeting in New Orleans revealed that an estimated 180,000 people die each year from consuming sugary beverages.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) told CBSNews.com in a statement that it was disappointed in the city's new campaign.
"Once again, the New York City Health Department is oversimplifying the complex set of factors behind obesity," Chris Gindlesperger, senior director of public affairs for the ABA, said. "Selectively picking out common grocery items like sugar-sweetened beverages as a cause of obesity is misleading. The public does not believe that solutions to obesity are as simplistic as a ban on the size of just one item that people consume, nor should they."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had attempted to enact a city-wide ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at food establishments monitored by the city's health department earlier this year. While milk-based and alcoholic beverages would be exempt, juices with low fruit content, sodas, and other sugary drinks would have to adhere to the smaller size.
However, because refills and additional 16 ounce drinks would be sold, one study in April 2013 in PLOS ONE hypothesized that people might actually buy more sugary drinks.
Bloomberg's proposal was put on hold when New York Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling in Manhattan declared it arbitrary in nature.
U.S. doctors' group labels obesity a disease
June 19, 2013, U.S. News & World Report
By Steven Reinberg
In an effort to focus greater attention on the weight-gain epidemic plaguing the United States, the American Medical Association (AMA) has now classified obesity as a disease.
The decision will hopefully pave the way for more attention by doctors on obesity and its dangerous complications, and may even increase insurance coverage for treatments, experts said.
"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris said in a statement on June 18. "The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity."
One expert thinks the AMA's decision, approved June 18 at the group's annual meeting, could lead to greater coverage by insurance companies of treatments for obesity.
"We already treat obesity as a chronic illness," said Dr. Esa Matius Davis, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "But this decision will bring more resources into the picture because it will, hopefully, allow for more insurance coverage and that really has been the issue of getting people the help that they need," she said.
Treatments for obesity — including drugs, nutritional counseling, and surgery, if needed —often don't get reimbursed by insurance companies, Davis said. That means many patients aren't getting the care they need because they can't afford to pay the out-of-pocket costs, she said.
If insurance covered these services "it would increase referrals and treatment and that would be a huge step in the right direction," Davis said.
Right now, Davis gets insurance coverage for her obese patients by diagnosing them with high blood pressure or high cholesterol or diabetes, or other obesity-related conditions. But, that still leaves many obese patients out in the cold, she said.
The Obesity Society, which calls itself the leading scientific society dedicated to the study of obesity, applauded the AMA's decision. "The passage of a new American Medical Association policy classifying obesity as a disease reinforces the science behind obesity prevention and treatment," Theodore Kyle, advocacy chair, said in a statement.
"This vital recognition of obesity as a disease can help to ensure more resources are dedicated to needed research, prevention and treatment; encourage health care professionals to recognize obesity treatment as a needed and respected vocation; and reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by the millions affected," he said.
Kyle said the AMA has now joined a number of organizations that have previously made this classification, including the National Institutes of Health, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Not everyone thinks the AMA's decision was the right one, however. In fact, the move was opposed by many in the doctors' group, including a committee that had been charged with exploring the issue. It had voted not to recognize obesity as a disease.
One of the objections to labeling obesity as a disease hinges on the way obesity is determined, using the so-called body mass index — a ratio of weight to height — that some health experts think is inexact. That's not the only objection.
"I have never liked the idea of characterizing obesity as a disease, because disease occurs when the body is malfunctioning," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. "Turning surplus calories into a fat reserve is not malfunction, it is normal physiology."
Katz said obesity is largely a societal problem caused by too much food and too little physical activity. While obesity certainly needs to be treated, the aspects of culture that have led to the obesity epidemic need to be changed, he said.
"Obesity is rampant in the modern world not because of changes in our bodies, but because of changes in the modern world. We are drowning in excess calories and labor-saving technologies," he said. He thinks obesity treatments deserve insurance coverage.
During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States, with more than one-third of adults (35.7 percent) and approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and teens considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight, the CDC said.
Blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity — 49.5 percent — followed by Mexican Americans (40.4 percent), all Hispanics (39 percent) and whites (34 percent).
Among children and teens, the obesity prevalence since 1980 has almost tripled. There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity rates among children. Hispanic boys are significantly more likely to be obese than white boys, and black girls are significantly more likely to be obese than white girls, CDC said.
Kellogg's, Coca-Cola offer more low-calorie foods, but are people healthier?
June 3, 2013, KPCC-FM (Southern California Public Radio)
By Hayley Fox
A group of corporate heavyweights including Hershey's, Kraft, Kellogg's and Coca-Cola announced last week that they had successfully made the U.S. marketplace healthier by reducing the number of calories on the shelf by 1.5 trillion.
While an expert applauded the move, she cautioned that there a lot of factors that come into play before it can be declared that Americans are getting healthier.
The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), an organization led by 16 food and beverage companies, are continuing their campaign to reduce obesity in the United States and are attempting to do so by offering healthier, lower-calorie options at retailers across the country. This includes reducing the calorie content in some current products and reducing portion sizes of existing single-serving products.
“That number [1.5 trillion calories] thrown out there doesn’t necessarily mean something to me in terms of the individual, but it does show their commitment," said Katie Chapmon, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente.
Culture, metabolism, and exercise are all part of weight management, said Chapmon, in addition to personal choice and preference. Just because Coca-Cola offers coconut water in addition to soda and Kellogg's releases a low-calorie cracker chip that shows up in the market snack aisle, doesn't mean people will necessarily choose these healthier options over others.
But Chapmon said that the brands included in the HWCF, such as PepsiCo, Campbell's Soup, and General Mills, do have a certain advantage when it comes to connecting with the consumer.
“Many consumers grow up with these brands so they develop a sense of trust with their products," said the dietitian. She explained that people may be more likely to try a new, low-calorie product if it comes from a big name, reliable source.
Chapmon added that in order to choose these healthier products, they must be available to people in the first place. In South Los Angeles, where grocery stores are often sparse, many residents have to make a concerted effort to stock up on these goods.
“Offerings are limited to what’s close to your home,” Chapmon said.
But adding lower calorie foods to their roster of options isn't all for the public good; in addition to garnering them some publicity, it's also reaped financial benefits for many of the companies. According to a study funded by the HWCF, lower calorie foods are driving sales for many of these corporations.
From 2007-2011, sales of lower calorie items by the HWCF companies studied increased by $1.25 billion — compared to less than $300 million for higher calorie products.
"Our industry has an important role to play in helping people lead healthy lives and our actions are having a positive impact," said Indra Nooyi, HWCF Chair and CEO of PepsiCo. "We see continued opportunities to give consumers the choices they're looking for and to work collaboratively with the public and non-profit sectors in initiatives that enable continued progress."
The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation said they aim to reduce obesity in the United States, especially among children, by 2015.