The systems that feed obesity
Addressing childhood obesity requires targeting far beyond healthy eating and physical activity, Ms. Bussel said.
“As important is whether that child has a safe place to call home. Does mom or dad or their care provider have a stable income? Is there reliable transportation? Is their access to health insurance? Is there access to high-quality health care? ... All of those factors influence the child and the family’s opportunities to live well, be healthy, and be at a healthy weight,” she noted.
The report includes a list of five main policy recommendations.
- Making free, universal school meal programs permanent.
- Extending eligibility for WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, to postpartum mothers and to children through age 6.
- Extending and expanding other programs, such as the Child Tax Credit.
- Closing the Medicaid coverage gap.
- Developing a consistent approach to collecting obesity data organized by race, ethnicity, and income level.
“Collectively, over at least the course of the last generation or two, our policy approach to obesity prevention has not been sufficient. But that doesn’t mean all of our policy approaches have been failures,” Ms. Bussel said during an interview. “Policy change does not always need to be dramatic to have a real impact on families.”
For Dr. Hassink, one of the barriers to change is society’s level of acceptance. She said an identifiable explanation for pandemic weight gain doesn’t mean society should simply shrug it off.
“If we regarded childhood obesity as the population level catastrophe that it is for chronic disease maybe people would be activated around these policy changes,” she said.
“We’re accepting a disease process that wreaks havoc on people,” noted Dr. Hassink, who was not involved in the new report. “I think it’s hard for people to realize the magnitude of the disease burden that we’re seeing. If you’re in a weight management clinic or any pediatrician’s office you would see it – you would see kids coming in with liver disease, 9-year-olds on [continuous positive airway pressure] for sleep apnea, kids needing their hips pinned because they had a hip fracture because of obesity.
“So, those of us that see the disease burden see what’s behind those numbers. The sadness of what we’re talking about is we know a lot about what could push the dial and help reduce this epidemic and we’re not doing what we already know,” added Dr. Hassink.
Ms. Bussel and Dr. Hassink reported no conflicts.