WASHINGTON -- Schools, food makers, government agencies and families themselves must work together to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity, a panel of scientists said Thursday.
The prestigious Institute of Medicine called Thursday for the wide-ranging effort that includes less time in front of television and computer screens, changes in food labeling and advertising, more school and community physical education programs and education to help children make better choices.
''It is now critical to alter social norms and attitudes'' so that healthy eating behavior and physical activity become a routine part of life, Dr. Jeffrey Koplan of Emory University in Atlanta, chair of the committee that prepared the recommendations, said Thursday at a briefing.
''This report is calling for fundamental changes in our society,'' Koplan said.
Dr. Thomas N. Robinson of Stanford University said that many health care providers are worried about the future as obese children age and adult chronic diseases are beginning in the teen years and younger. ''Everything is affected by overweight,'' he said.
''I hope this finally serves as the wake-up call we need to implement a comprehensive solution to this epidemic that is hitting every corner of America,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who has pushed legislation and research to improve school lunches and other dietary measures to fight childhood obesity.
The report from the IOM, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to focus on the sharp increase in childhood obesity. Over the last 30 years the rate of childhood obesity has tripled among youngsters aged 6 to 11 and has doubled for those aged 2 to 5 and 12 to 19, the institute reported.
''Obesity may be a personal issue, but at the same time, families, communities and corporations all are adversely affected by obesity and all bear responsibility for changing social norms to better promote healthier life-styles,'' added Koplan, former director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity can lead to increased likelihood of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep problems, high cholesterol, gallstones and other problems.
''Things have changed ... pushing kids to eat more and be less active,'' observed Dr. Stephen R. Daniels of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
''It's very clear that the solution is not in any one place,'' said Daniels, of the hospital's comprehensive weight management center.
''Ultimately the major ap-proach to this is prevention ... we have to start early,'' he said, urging cooperation of family, community, schools and industry.
Specifically, the panel suggested that parents limit kids' TV hours, that schools provide healthier food, that restaurants offer nutrition information and that communities provide more recreation opportunities.
On Tuesday, three U.S. Cabinet secretaries fanned out across the country to promote healthier lifestyles, especially among young people.
''The cities have got to set aside (safe) places for kids to get outside and walk or even ride their bicycles,'' said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. Also on the road promoting healthier lifestyles were Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Surgeon General Richard Carmona and Education Secretary Rod Paige.
The IOM report calls for increased federal involvement, including creation of an interdepartmental task force to coordinate activities, developing nutrition standards for school food, setting guidelines for advertising and marketing to children and increases in research funding.
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