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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
Changes that lead to healthy communities, such as organizational and policy changes in local schools, school districts, neighborhoods, and cities, are equally important. At the state and national levels, large-scale modifications are needed in the ways in which society promotes healthful eating habits and physically active lifestyles. Accomplishing these changes will be difficult, but there is precedent for success in other public health endeavors of comparable or greater complexity and scope. This must be a national effort, with special attention to communities that experience health disparities and that have social and physical environments unsupportive of healthful nutrition and physical activity.
A NATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH PRIORITY
Just as broad-based approaches have been used to address other public health concerns—including automobile safety and tobacco use—obesity prevention should be public health in action at its broadest and most inclusive level. Prevention of obesity in children and youth should be a nationalpublic health priority.
Across the country, obesity prevention efforts have already begun, and although the ultimate solutions are still far off, there is great potential at present for pursuing innovative approaches and creating linkages that permit the cross-fertilization of ideas. Current efforts range from new school board policies and state legislation regarding school physical education requirements and nutrition standards for beverages and foods sold in schools to community initiatives to expand bike paths and improve recreational facilities. Parallel and synergistic efforts to prevent adult obesity, which will contribute to improvements in health for the entire U.S. population, are also beginning. Grassroots efforts made by citizens and organizations will likely drive many of the obesity prevention efforts at the local level and can be instrumental in driving policies and legislation at the state and national levels.
The additional impetus that is needed is the political will to make childhood obesity prevention a national public health priority. Obesity prevention efforts nationwide will require federal, state, and local governments to commit adequate and sustained resources for surveillance, research, public health programs, evaluation, and dissemination. The federal government has had a longstanding commitment to programs that address nutritional deficiencies (beginning in the 1930s) and encourage physical fitness, but only recently has obesity been targeted. The federal government should demonstrate effective leadership by making a sustained commitment to support policies and programs that are commensurate to the scale of the problem. Furthermore, leadership in this endeavor will require coordination of federal efforts with state and community efforts, complemented by