Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Solving the Weight of the Nation

On May 8, the Institute of Medicine issued its consensus report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Weight of the Nation" conference.  The report, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seeks to identify the "catalysts that could speed progress in obesity prevention." 

Indeed, statistics prove that catalysts are needed.
  • Over two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. 
  • Treating obesity related illnesses costs an estimated $190.2 billion a year. 
  • 21% of annual medical spending is spent on obesity-related illnesses.
  • $4.3 billion in annual losses to businesses because of obesity-related job absenteeism.
Additional information on the startling aspects of the problem be found on the PBS Newshour website, including Obesity in America: By the Numbers.

The report identifies five critical goals for preventing obesity:

  1. Integrating physical activity into people's daily lives;
  2. Making healthy food and beverage options available everywhere,;
  3. Transforming marketing and messages about nutrition and activity; 
  4. Making schools a gateway to healthy weights; and,
  5. Galvanizing employers and health care professionals to support healthy lifestyles. 

 How does agriculture, or more precisely, agricultural law fit into this discussion?  Quite prominently.

Goal 2 is to "create food and beverage environments that ensure that healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice."  The strategy for meeting this goal includes efforts to "[b]roaden the examination and development of U.S. agriculture policy and research to include implications for the American diet."

This is reaffirming.  A while back I wrote the post Farm Policy Should be Food Policy. And, I mention this not because I am claiming any bragging rights -  it is just common sense.

How do we go about creating a farm policy that is connected to our dietary needs?  The report suggests that -

Congress, the Administration, and federal agencies should examine the implications of U.S. agriculture policy for obesity, and should ensure that such policy includes understanding and implementing, as appropriate, an optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
And, it suggests potential actions that could be taken in developing this policy:

  • The President appointing a Task Force on Agriculture Policy and Obesity Prevention to evaluate the evidence on the relationship between agriculture policies and the American diet, and to develop recommendations for policy options and future policy-related research, specifically on the impact of farm subsidies and the management of commodities on food prices, access, affordability, and consumption;
  • Congress and the Administration establishing a process by which federal food, agriculture, and health officials would review and report on the possible implications of U.S. agriculture policy for obesity prevention to ensure that this issue will be fully taken into account when policy makers consider the Farm Bill;
  • Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developing policy options for promoting increased domestic production of foods recommended for a healthy diet that are generally under-consumed—including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products—by reviewing incentives and disincentives that exist in current policy; 
  • As part of its agricultural research agenda, USDA exploring the optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including an examination of the possible impact of smaller-scale agriculture, of regional agricultural product distribution chains, and of various agricultural models from small to large scale, as well as other efforts to ensure a sustainable, sufficient, and affordable supply of fresh fruits and vegetables; and
  • Congress and the Administration ensuring that there is adequate public funding for agricultural research and extension so that the research agenda can include a greater focus on supporting the production of foods Americans need to consume in greater quantities according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Should IOM send the report to the House and Senate agriculture committees?  They are working on the 2012 farm bill now.


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