Progress on obesity rates 'unacceptably slow'

Most nations are not doing enough to address obesity rates, according to a six-part series published in the Lancet, and governments must rethink their strategies.

While some cities and countries have seen child obesity rates level off, obesity rates, which have reached an all-time high, have not declined population-wide in any country, and only one in four countries have implemented a healthy-eating policy up to 2010, according to the Lancet. In low- and middle-income countries, stunted growth due to lack of nutrition combined with rising levels of obesity can lead to infants reaching more than their full weight without developing their full height, according to the series. Obesity rates complicate healthcare delivery as well, with the industry's percentage of obese workers higher than almost all others. This has led to an increase in programs within healthcare meant to both curb child obesity and improve employee wellness.

Part of the problem, the authors write, is that the food industry has a vested interest in targeting children, with the global market for processed infant foods projected to reach $19 billion in value this year, compared to $13.7 billion in 2007. Moreover, governmental solutions to the problem have largely relied on voluntary food industry initiatives. Besides the conflict of interest inherent in these initiatives, there is no evidence of their effectiveness.

"It's time to realize that this vicious cycle of supply and demand for unhealthy foods can be broken with 'smart food policies' by governments alongside joint efforts from industry and civil society to create healthier food systems," writes Christina Roberto, M.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

The series makes several policy recommendations, including a call for anti-obesity civic action, similar to South Africa's efforts to provide universal healthcare to HIV/AIDs patients. Lead author Boyd Swinburn of the University of Auckland in New Zealand further recommended improved accountability systems that allow government officials to take an active role, creating more demand for healthy food environments and putting more checks on the food industry during policymaking.

To learn more:
- read the Lancet series