What Can We Do?
In the wake of the obesity epidemic, government and local organizations are mobilizing to reverse the trend. While the onus is on every individual to regulate their weight, there are also initiatives to champion at the community level.
The most critical initiatives in the battle against obesity are aimed at combatting obesity in kids and teens. The most notable of these is the federal Let’s Move program. Launched in 2010 by Michelle Obama, the project aims to cut obesity rates in kids, primarily through the following initiatives:
- Physical education: Despite the growing obesity crisis, many schools are not giving kids the exercise they need. The CDC reported in 2012 that half of the nation’s high school student take no physical education course. The most common culprit behind this lack of exercise is budget cuts, as reported in the New York Times the same year. The Let’s Move initiative, on the other hands, says kids should have 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
- Recess: With more and more attention given to standardized test results, treating them as the ultimate metric of a school’s success, recess times are being cut short across the country. This, in turn, impacts a child’s ability to exercise as much as is recommended.
- Sports programs: With school budgets being slashed over recent years, even sports are on the chopping block. In many cases, schools are charging parents additional fees for their children to participate in sports teams. This policy, called “pay to play”, makes it harder for lower-income kids, already disproportionately affected by obesity, to participate in athletics. According to one study from the University of Michigan, 61% of middle school and high school athletes pay fees out-of-pocket to play.
- Healthy meals: A major pillar of the federal Let’s Move initiative is getting healthier food in American schools. So in 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released new rules to boost the nutritional quality of hot lunch and school breakfasts. Many school districts have also moved to ban junk food and sugary sodas.
The Harvard School of Public Health advocates using health care providers as a counterforce to the growing obesity and weight gain trends. Doctors can provide useful information and encouragement, and health insurance companies can incentivize enrollees to stay in shape, through covering weight-loss and wellness programs. It is no surprise that the Affordable Care Act is now requiring insurers to take on obesity.
Food and Exercise
Unfortunately in America today, we are surrounded by junk food, which is usually extremely high in added sugars. And even worse, this food is often easier to prepare and more accessible than healthy options, like fruits and vegetables. To meet this challenge, Harvard University School of Public Health recommends restricting easy access to junk food, making healthy options more available through subsidies, increasing labeling standards, and taxing sugary drinks.
According to a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente, one third of Americans say they don’t walk even ten minutes at any one time during the week, and another third don’t walk enough to meet the minimum threshold for physical activity set by the CDC. As a result, Harvard School of Public Health recommends communities pursue living environments that encourage walking and biking rather than car dependence.