As the obesity epidemic continues among young and old alike, a new report finds the United States lagging behind other countries in evaluating and selecting the best programs and policies to curb the problem.
Investment in the issue “is too sporadic, presenting serious barriers to understanding the impact of interventions and the need for future investments,” according to a news release from the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government on health issues.
The report also said current national monitoring of these programs and policies lack adequate leadership, coordination, infrastructure, guidance, accountability and capacity.
One expert said the report is welcome because obesity rates continue to rise.
“During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States, making the United States the No. 1 country with the highest incidence of obesity worldwide,” said Dr. Alan Saber, director of bariatric and metabolic surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City.
“More than one-third of U.S. adults and approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese,” Saber said.
But the IOM said local communities lack the necessary resources to evaluate the scope of obesity problems or develop and monitor obesity-prevention efforts.
One expert said funding is a priority.
“This report is most important,” said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Sadly, it will find that current efforts are not working, especially in economic-challenged areas.”
For obesity-prevention programs to have an impact, “more funding and tough choices will need to occur,” Roslin said.
The alternative — letting the obesity epidemic continue — could cost the nation billions, Saber said.
“In addition to the medical, psychological and social effect of obesity, the economic impact of obesity is tremendous,” he said. “According to the CDC report in 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion and the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of [people of] normal weight.”
But the IOM report concluded that “more systematic and routine evaluations could help determine how well obesity-prevention programs and policies are being implemented and which interventions work best.”
Saber said he agreed that specific plans — both nationally and locally — for evaluation of obesity-prevention efforts were necessary.
The IOM recommended the creation of an obesity task force to oversee and lead the implementation of any national anti-obesity plan and to provide support for the community plan.
The institute is an independent, nonprofit organization that provides unbiased advice to decision-makers and the public.