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IOM: Examine all ag policies for impact on obesity


Congress, the Obama administration and federal agencies should examine all U.S. agricultural policies for their impact on obesity, an Institute of Medicine committee chaired by former Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman said in a report released early today.

The report — “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation” — was released at 8:30 a.m. at a conference called “The Weight of the Nation,” co-sponsored by the IOM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Home Box Office, which has produced a four-part documentary series on the subject of obesity that will begin airing next week. (See following story.)

Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman
“As the trends show, people have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day,” said Glickman, who is affiliated with both the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Aspen Institute.

“Individuals and groups can’t solve this complex problem alone, and that’s why we recommend changes that can work together at the societal level and reinforce one another's impact to speed our progress,” he added.

Part of the strategy to fight obesity faster should be to “broaden the examination and development of U.S. agriculture policy and research to include implications for the American diet,” said the report, presented by a panel of medical professionals and other experts who make up the IOM's Standing Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention.

Agricultural policies should implement, as appropriate, “an optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the report continued.

The research team was led by Lynn Parker, a scholar at the Institute of Medicine and a well-known advocate in the field of nutrition. A full list of the doctors, other medical professionals and officials is included in the report.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public.

The IOM report was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report, which contains a wide range of actions for private groups and states and localities to take, recommends the following “potential actions” at the federal level:
  • The president should appoint a task force to evaluate the relationship between agriculture policies and the American diet, and to develop recommendations for policy and future policy-related research, specifically on the impact of farm subsidies and the management of commodities on food prices, access, affordability, and consumption.
  • Congress and the administration should establish a process by which federal food, agriculture, and health officials would review and report on the possible implications of U.S. agriculture policy for obesity prevention to ensure that this issue will be fully taken into account when policy makers consider the farm bill.
  • Congress and the Agriculture Department should develop options for promoting increased domestic production of healthy foods that are generally underconsumed — including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products — by reviewing incentives and disincentives that exist in current policy.
  • As part of its agricultural research agenda, USDA should explore the optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including "an examination of the possible impact of smaller-scale agriculture, of regional agricultural product distribution chains, and of various agricultural models from small to large scale, as well as other efforts to ensure a sustainable, sufficient, and affordable supply of fresh fruits and vegetables."
  • The federal government should expand the healthy vending and concession guidelines to include all government-owned or operated buildings, worksites, facilities, and other locations where foods and beverages are sold or served.
  • The FDA and USDA should adopt a standard nutrition labeling system for all fronts of packages and retail store shelves, and should consider making this system mandatory so consumers may compare products on a standard nutrition profile. The guidelines provided in 2011 by the Institute of Medicine’s “Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices” should be used for implementation.
  • Restaurants should implement the FDA regulations that require those with 20 or more locations to provide calorie labeling on their menus and menu boards, and the FDA/USDA should monitor industry for compliance with this policy.
  • Restrictions should be removed on the type of information that can be included in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educational programs, and advice about the types of foods to reduce should be encouraged.
  • Notification of the revised regulations should be disseminated, along with authoritative guidance on how to align federally funded nutrition education programs with the Dietary Guidelines.
  • Nutrition education should be fully aligned with the Dietary Guidelines and apply to all federal programs with a nutrition education component, particularly programs that target primary food shoppers in low-income families (for example, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]).

REPORT: Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention:Solving the Weight of the Nation

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