By ANTANINA KAPCHONAVA
Changes in American diet and lifestyle by individuals can help decrease the obesity epidemic but the combined efforts of government, society and media are needed to solve a growing problem, a new report said.
The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention announced at the “Weight of the Nation” conference Tuesday that the slow progress made in reversing national obesity trends is partly due to the exposure of Americans to fast food and vast advertising of unhealthy products and beverages.
According to the report, two-thirds of adults and almost one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese.
“As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day,” committee chairman Dan Glickman said at the conference. “Individuals and groups can’t solve this complex problem alone, and that’s why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another’s impact to speed our progress.”
The Institute of Medicine researchers came to the conclusion that Americans’ calorie intake has significantly increased over the past 40 years, and 20 percent of weight increase between 1977 and 2007 is attributed to sugar-sweetened beverages.
American Beverage Association immediately released a statement, insisting that “advocating discriminatory policies that uniquely focus on sugar-sweetened beverages is the wrong approach.”
The association said that only 7 percent of the calories in the average American’s diet come from sugar-sweetened beverages. “Focusing on a small and declining source of calories in the diet is a wrong-headed approach that distracts from meaningful solutions that promote healthier diets overall, as well as increased physical activity,” it stated.
The report found that besides the poor diet choices, Americans fail to regularly exercise.
Businesses’ annual losses associated with obesity-related job absenteeism come up to $4.3 billion, and preventative measures need to be taken to lower these costs and to promote physical activity and healthy food choices work places, the report said.
Some business owners include discounted gym memberships in employees’ benefits packages, an incentive used for routine obesity prevention; most national sport clubs are more than willing to accommodate such employers.
Town Sports International’s sports clubs encourage companies of any size to offer club membership benefits to their employees. Individuals enrolled in their corporate wellness program enjoy savings of up to 20 percent.
Lucille Roberts, one of the largest women’s health clubs chains in America, provides comprehensive packages to individuals and businesses.
“It might attract some people,” said a manager at a Lucille Roberts health club on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, referring to the effectiveness of adding gym membership to benefits packages. “But then there are others . . . you can bring the gym to their living room, and they still won’t exercise. It’s a mentality.”
She noted that most of their members join Lucille Roberts on an individual basis, but some of the customers are covered by Oxford health plans through work.
“If they come 50 times within six months, Oxford reimburses them,” she said.
According to the Institute of Medicine’s report, $190.2 billion, or 21 percent of the country’s annual medical spending, was allocated to treat overweight and obese patients in 2005-2010.