Prevention: A Blueprint for Action. Obesity Activities

04/01/2004

Cross-cutting focus at NIH and the Food and Drug Administration.
As the problems of overweight and obesity have grown, the need for new action and research has become more evident.  In response, NIH assembled a Task Force to identify areas for new research across its many institutes.  In March 2004, NIH released the draft of its Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research (www.obesityresearch.nih.gov).  This report identifies key areas of research need, priorities among those areas, a road map for advancing these research priorities, and the establishment of a committee for monitoring progress in addressing the issues and problems relating to overweight and obesity.

Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established an Obesity Working Group to advise the agency on innovative ways to deal with the increase in obesity and to identify ways to help consumers lead healthier lives through better nutrition.  In March 2004, the working group released its report with a focus on the message, "calories count."  The group’s long- and short-term proposals are based on the scientific fact that weight control is mainly a function of the balance between calories consumed and calories expended.  That is, calories in must equal calories out.  The report includes recommendations to strengthen food labeling, to educate consumers about maintaining a healthy diet and weight and to encourage restaurants to provide calorie and nutrition information.  It also recommends increasing enforcement efforts to ensure food labels accurately portray serving size, revising and reissuing guidance on developing obesity drugs and strengthening coordinated scientific research to reduce obesity and to develop foods that are healthier and low in calories.

Dietary guidelines.
HHS is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review the Dietary Guidelines that were published in 2000 and to draft new 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  In light of the growing number of overweight and obese Americans, a major focus of the new guidelines will be providing guidance to the public on maintaining a healthy weight, and creating lifestyles that balance the number of calories eaten with the number of calories expended.  These guidelines must (1) contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public, (2) be based in the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge current at the time of publication, and (3) be promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out and Federal food, nutrition, or health program.

5 a Day for Better Health.
One of the most recognizable efforts to promote good nutrition and healthy eating habits has been the 5 A Day for Better Health Program.  This national nutrition program seeks to increase to 5 or more the number of daily servings Americans eat of fruits and vegetables.  In addition to its widely known slogan, the 5 A Day program reaches many individuals through health care provider networks, the internet, and print media to provide information about the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as easy steps for adding more of them into daily eating patterns. 

Administration on Aging action.
The Administration on Aging’s (AoA) National Policy and Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging was created for the purpose of increasing and improving food and nutrition services to older Americans through their caregivers at home, with community-based service providers, and in long-term care systems.  The Center focuses on linking proper nutrition and physical activity as key themes in the healthy aging process.  One strategy for making this link has been the development and publication of, You Can! Steps to Healthier Aging, a community guide detailing a 12-week program to help older Americans “eat better” and “move more.”  The Center is awarding 10 mini-grants to local communities to implement the You Can! Program in 2004.

AoA provides funding to states to implement health promotion and disease prevention activities.  Educational information is disseminated through Senior Centers, congregate meal sites and home-delivered meal programs.  Health screening and risk assessment activities including hypertension, glaucoma, hearing, nutrition screening, cholesterol, vision, diabetes, bone density and others are also provided.  Physical activity and fitness programs are provided along with education about the prevention and reduction of alcohol, substance abuse, and smoking.  Further, the importance of appropriately managing medications is emphasized.

VERB. It’s what you do.
Since the problem of overweight and obesity has also reached America’s young people, the youth media campaign, VERB. It’s what you do. was created.  VERB’s goal is to promote social norms that support physical activity and portray fitness as fun and healthy.  In order to reach tweens and motivate their participation, HHS/CDC has enlisted partner organizations in the campaign, such as 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs and the National Hockey League (NHL), to brand the VERB message and make it appealing to its audience.  VERB also reaches out to parents and other adults influential to young people, encouraging them to support and participate in physical activity with tweens.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS).
Although it is an independent agency, the PCPFS is headquartered at HHS.  It promotes physical activity for all ages, backgrounds and abilities with information and publications (www.fitness.gov) and physical activity/fitness motivational awards programs (www.presidentschallenge.org).

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