Let's Move! Campaign Issues Action Plan for Childhood Obesity Fight

June 07, 2010 12:50 am News Staff

First lady Michelle Obama, shown here at a Let's Move! press event in March, says the nation is spending $150 billion a year to treat obesity-related conditions.

The task force for first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to combat childhood obesity has issued a report that outlines ways to achieve the campaign's goal of ending the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. The action plan includes a series of recommendations that address such issues as empowering parents and caregivers and increasing physical activity.

"I have talked about the statistics," said Obama during a May 11 press conference where she unveiled the action plan for the Let's Move! campaign. "We have all heard about them.

"But they always bear repeating -- how nearly one in three children in this country are overweight and obese; how one in three kids will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime as a result; and how we're spending $150 billion a year to treat obesity-related conditions, like heart disease and cancer."

The task force's report makes more than 70 recommendations in five key areas:

  • early childhood interventions;
  • empowering parents and caregivers;
  • healthier food in schools;
  • access to healthy, affordable food; and
  • increasing physical activity.

The report also outlines the challenges in each of these areas, as well as benchmarks to gauge success in meeting the recommendations. Each section concludes with key questions for future research when considering the development of national research agendas.

In the section on empowering parents and caregivers, in particular, the task force has issued a recommendation that physicians should be encouraged to routinely calculate a child's body mass index, or BMI, and to provide information to parents about how to help their children achieve a healthy weight.

The report sets 2012 as the benchmark for all primary care physicians to assess BMI at all well-child and adolescent visits and for all parents and caregivers to routinely receive nutritional and physical activity counseling from their child's health care providers.

According to the report, "parents and caregivers often do not realize when a child is overweight or obese. In fact, studies have consistently shown that parents do not accurately perceive the weight of their overweight or obese child. To inform and make potentially serious health issues salient to parents and caregivers, several states and municipalities now require children's BMI to be measured and shared with parents or caregivers."

The report cites a recent survey of practicing pediatricians that found nearly all respondents reported measuring height and weight at well-child visits, but "only about half (of the physicians surveyed) calculate and assess BMI percentile for gender and age for children older than 2 years of age. Most pediatricians reported that they lacked time to counsel on overweight or obesity, and counseling alone has poor results, yet they noted that having simple diet and exercise recommendations would be helpful."

The report's authors suggest that future research in this area should include

  • testing models for delivering obesity prevention messages,
  • testing ways to change the behaviors of health care professionals, and
  • translating or disseminating evidenced-based therapies to primary care practices.