Prevention of Childhood obesity
Architectural designs of school buildings and their environment can be re-examined for opportunities to impose increased energy expenditure. A multi-storey building with purposefully designed class schedules could lead to substantial stair (or ramp) climbing during the school day.
Prevention in the community includes public policies and mass-media campaigns.98,99 For the past decade, pressure has been increasing for labelling of caloric contents on menus, especially at fast-food restaurants.
However, data for the effects of such labelling on prevention of childhood obesity are scarce.100
In 2002, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a 2-year marketing campaign via media advertisements to promote physical activity in children aged 9-13 years.101
Children’s physical activity (assessed by self-report) increased,98,99 but effects on BMI were not assessed. In several countries, governments are being urged to address the toxic environment by levying taxes on sugared beverages and fast foods, though the effectiveness of such measures is unknown.102
Popular media in several countries have given much attention to the topic of obesity, but no objective information is available about the effect of these messages on the public. Public health surveillance and screening for childhood obesity have been implemented in some communities. In 2003, Arkansas was the first US state to pass legislation for mandatory BMI assessments of children in public schools, with yearly reporting to parents. This approach has since been followed in 13 other states.103,104
In 2005, a National Child Measurement Programme was introduced in the UK for yearly surveillance of two school year groups. In 2007, the British Government introduced legislation to give parents the results of their child’s measurements.
Existing evidence is unclear as to whether surveillance or screening of childhood obesity will be valuable for prevention.
Infants and young children are seen frequently in medical settings for well-child and acute care. These visits present an opportunity to detect upward deviations in a child’s growth rate, thus placing the primary-care provider at the strategic first line of defence before BMI exceeds recommended values. However, data for the effectiveness of such counselling for obesity prevention are scarce. Some crucial periods during childhood present both challenges and windows of opportunity for obesity prevention because they are associated with notable changes in adiposity accrual or obesity-related behaviour. These periods are the first year of life,28 during adiposity rebound (age 3-7 years), and menarche.105 The transition from childhood to adolescence is a time of striking behavioural changes, including an abrupt reduction in physical activity.106 Although whether preventive measures instituted during these times will prevent excessive growth is unclear, these opportunities should be investigated further.
Common sense supports a key role for decreased energy intake and increased energy expenditure in human beings, who have adapted through evolutionary processes to parsimonious energy metabolism. Thus, prevention programmes should decrease energy intake, increase activity, and reduce sedentary behaviour. To balance the need for more definitive research into which interventions best achieve changes in these behaviours against the pressure to act now to halt and reverse the obesity epidemic, we need to continue with both prevention activities and research to better understand the means of induction of behavioural changes and their effect on childhood obesity.
For prevention, one might recall the words of Rudolph Virchow, a 19th century German pathologist, who wrote that ‘‘epidemics appear, and often disappear without traces, when a new culture period has started” and that mass diseases are “due to…disturbances of human culture”.107 Geoffrey Rose promulgated the notion further that whole populations can be sick (such as the case of obesity), and that political action might be needed to improve population health.108 Thus, we should continue to seek opportunities for prevention at all levels of society, including having responsible public policies to modify our manner of living, since there remain many untapped resources and untried venues.
Joan C Han, Debbie A Lawlor, Sue Y S Kimm
Lancet 2010; 375 - 1737-48
Published Online May 6, 2010 DOI - 10.1016/ S0140- 6736(10)60171-7
Unit on Growth and Obesity, Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, Bethesda, MD, USA (J C Han MD); MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology, Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK (Prof D A Lawlor PhD); and Department of Internal Medicine/Epidemiology, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM, USA (S Y S Kimm MD)
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