Report: Effort to Combat Childhood Obesity Failing A new report from the Institute of Medicine says the country is going backwards when it comes to obesity. Some programs that seem to fight childhood obesity work -- but are being cut out of government budgets, even after helping children lose weight.
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Report: Effort to Combat Childhood Obesity Failing

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Report: Effort to Combat Childhood Obesity Failing

Report: Effort to Combat Childhood Obesity Failing

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick. In Washington at the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine has just released a checkup on the nation's efforts to combat obesity among kids. It comes up with a lot of C's, D's and F's. NPR's Patricia Neighmond has more on the report.

PATRICIA NEIGHMOND: There aren't many positives in this report. Yes, some cities, school systems and even states have made some strides in starting childhood nutrition and exercise programs, but for the most part the nation is failing, according to the health experts who served on the IOM's panel. Dr. Antronette Yancey is a preventive health specialist and professor at UCLA's School of Public Health.

Dr. ANTRONETTE YANCEY (UCLA School of Public Health): It is our whole culture, and I think that's the biggest point that we'd like to convey in our report is that everything has to change. We can't just change what's happening at a few settings in which children are found.

NEIGHMOND: Changes so far have been tiny, according to the report, despite an earlier call to action from the institute three years ago. And things have gotten worse. There are more overweight and obese kids. And while some schools have made progress getting unhealthy foods out of the schools and healthy foods in, there's a long way to go. On top of that, Yancey says, kids are more sedentary than ever.

Dr. YANCEY: There's so much television and other electronic media consumption that promotes sedentary behavior. And then you compound that in certain neighborhoods with the fact that it's not safe to play outside. Not only because of bullets or violence, but also because of the lack of traffic calming devices - no stoplights, no crossing bridges, no walkways or sidewalks.

NEIGHMOND: Efforts to change that, according to the report, are uncoordinated, unevaluated, and in some cases unfunded. Dr. Jeff Koplan from Emory University in Atlanta, headed the IOM committee. He says even successful programs have been killed.

Dr. JEFF KOPLAN (Emory University): This is analogous to having a vaccine that you might put into play to see whether it's effective or not, find it to be effective, and then by not funding it you're putting it on the shelf and denying the children of having a health benefit from it.

NEIGHMOND: Koplan points to a federal program aimed at tweens - kids between nine and thirteen - around the time kids tend to head away from physical activities and head toward the computer and video games. The program was called VERB. It was a simple but massive media campaign that put images of active kids on billboards, TV ads and magazines. Images that included a one word VERB. Dr. Yancey.

Dr. YANCEY: Swim, bike, skateboard - and, you know, it had a variety of images of kids of different socio-demographic groups in colorful outfits and with the kinds of things that attract kid's attention. You know, certain shoes and helmets and this that and the other thing.

NEIGHMOND: The point of the campaign: make an active lifestyle cool. And it worked, says Yancey. After five years, at a cost of about sixty-eight million a year, federal researchers charted an increase in the number of kids that said they got out and exercised. Even so, the program did not appear in the current budget from the president, and Congress didn't restore its funding.

Dr. YANCEY: So after investing quite a bit of money to brand this and create a brand that actually worked, the funding was cut out entirely.

NEIGHMOND: The IOM committee is calling for a cabinet-level task force to include health, education and urban planning - a task force mandated to come up with an active and solid plan to help kids eat healthfully and exercise both when they're at school and when they're at home. Patricia Neighmond, NPR News.

CHADWICK: NPR.org has the full Institute of Medicine report online. That's at NPR.org.

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