Jan 14 2014
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New Institute of Medicine 'Obesity Solutions' Roundtable Begins Its Work

Earlier this week a new Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, established by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), convened its first meeting in Washington, D.C.

The goal of the Roundtable, which plans to meet over the next several years, is to engage leadership from multiple sectors to help solve the U.S. obesity crisis. According to the IOM, more than one third of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, and some estimates tag the cost of obesity at almost 10 percent of the national health care budget. Obesity also increases rates of chronic disease and their associated costs. The Roundtable will convene meetings, public workshops, background papers and “innovation collaboratives” with a goal of “accelerating and sustaining progress in obesity prevention and care,” according chair Lynn Parker, formerly with the Food Research and Action Center in New York City.

The overarching themes of the Roundtable will include:

  • Viewing the problem of obesity from a systems perspective
  • Achieving health equity through focused action and research
  • Developing and using effective communication strategies
  • Identifying innovative financing mechanisms
  • Evaluating progress

The opening speaker at this week’s meeting was Bill Dietz, a former Director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now a consultant to the Institute of Medicine. Dietz pointed to reports last year that found signs of progress in efforts to reverse the obesity epidemic, with decreases in obesity among preschoolers from low-income families in 18 states.

“Change is beginning and change in a positive direction is taking place,” said Dietz. “The challenge is how we, working together, manage to accelerate this progress. How do we make the decline of obesity the norm and the mainstream of the future?”

file From 2008 to 2011, there were widespread decreases in obesity rates among preschool children from low-income families.

Dietz said that research shows that obesity among women has plateaued, which could indicate gains to come if compared with the history of smoking reduction, which showed plateaus in rates of smoking just before major policy changes. Dietz said subsequent initiatives were successful because the public was already aware of the dangers.

Presenters were asked to suggest innovative ideas for preventing obesity and reducing rates overall. Among them were:

  • Making physical activity a core component of the school day
  • Engaging parents
  • Tailoring interventions to culture and audience
  • Sustainable approaches, including businesses working on obesity prevention and sharing what works best for them

Several speakers mentioned the need to account for different community needs when addressing obesity.

“Each community faces different challenges so the multifaceted approach will look different in each community,” said speaker Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of advocacy group Trust for America’s Health.

“We’ll make change by making the healthy choice the easier choice and a health in all policies approach,” said Howard Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Tags: Institute of Medicine, Nutrition policy, Obesity, Obesity policy