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Report Offers Recommendations for Combating Spread of U.S. Obesity

With one-third of U.S. children now considered overweight or obese, the country is facing a brewing health crisis.

To combat the further spread of obesity in the United States, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture should develop and implement new dietary guidelines for the first 1,000 days of a child's life and national physical-activity guidelines for all children younger than 6, suggests the Bipartisan Policy Center in a report released today.

Furthermore, schools should actively work to improve nutrition and physical-activity opportunities for students, requiring 60 minutes of physical activity per day for each student, the report says.

The report, "Lots to Lose: How America's Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens Our Economic Future," offers a number of recommendations for how the U.S. can help citizens control their weight and live healthier lifestyles. It comes from the BPC's Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, chaired by two former secretaries of Agriculture, Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman, and two former secretaries of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt and Donna Shalala.

Well and Good

The authors highlight four major areas of focus in the report: Families, schools, workplaces, and communities. For schools, they specifically suggest integrating physical activity into the whole school day (not just phys. ed. class), restoring recess, and including physical activity in out-of-school activities.

Beyond providing ample opportunities for physical activity, the report suggests that parents and schools should work together and strive to limit children to only one to two hours of quality screen time per day.

"Learning to be active early on, and staying active throughout our lifetimes, is critical to reducing obesity and chronic disease," Leavitt said today at an event for the report's release. "To improve our performance in school, at work, and in the global economy, local public- and private-sector partners need to use existing infrastructure and leverage existing resources to increase physical activity."

In the report, the authors note the research linking physical activity to improved academic success as all the more reason to boost physical activity in school. They include a picture of a child's brain after sitting quietly vs. after taking a 20-minute walk—guess which one had the more active brain?

"There is no silver bullet," said Glickman at the report's release. "But we have identified numerous steps that show what is possible. We must all take action to beat this threat. America cannot afford for the obesity crisis to go unnoticed any longer."

In case this report reeks of controversy, similar to N.Y.C. Mayor Bloomberg's recent proposal to ban the sale of large, sugary drinks, the report authors quickly moved to quash that notion.

"Our recommendations, we must note, are not about creating a 'nanny state'—just the opposite," the four secretaries wrote in an op-ed published today in The Hill. "They are intended to empower our people to live healthier, wealthier, and longer lives in the face of a real and present danger to our security, economy, and well-being."

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