Preventing Childhood Obesity

The Institute of Medicine last week issued a report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, focusing on preventing obesity among children under age 5.  The fact that we need to worry about obesity at such a young age underscores both the extent of the childhood obesity epidemic in America and the importance of efforts to reverse these trends.  Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies outlines recommendations for how individuals, organizations and policymakers can establish and maintain home and school environments for children that enable them to have healthy, active lifestyles.  Diabetes is one of the major chronic disease cost drivers in our health care system today and this report underscores the urgent need to tackle chronic diseases head on for all – no matter their age.

Chronic diseases, including obesity-driven diabetes, represent the single leading cause of death, disability and rising healthcare costs in our country, yet the vast majority of chronic disease cases could be better managed, or even prevented.  This holds doubly true when you consider that a tragically large number of children are currently overweight or obese.  Without a dramatic change, one in three American adults will have diabetes by 2050 (up from 1 in 10 today).  Sadly, the list could also include the growing number of kids who are being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes today due to poor diet and lack of physical activity. 

As the popular book title goes, “all I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten”. While the book focuses on kindness and our treatment of others, its theory holds true – everything from what we eat to how we play is influenced by those around us early in life.  Knowing that negative lifestyle behaviors that start at an early age follow us throughout life, we must educate our children on and give them access to healthy choices from the get-go to ensure they’re on track for living an active, healthy life. 

Our country is at the crossroads of a major healthcare crisis that is affecting the quality of life for Americans and, increasingly, our economy. Investing health care dollars into programs that prevent and better manage chronic diseases have been shown to improve lives and lower costs – a win-win.  Our willingness and urgency to implement these programs now stand to affect not only the current population – young and old – facing these conditions, but future generations as well.