- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The battle to curb childhood and adolescent obesity must go beyond parents and teachers to include local governments attracting grocery stores, a possible junk-food tax and even promoting “breast-feeding friendly” zones, the Institute of Medicine said Tuesday.

The group’s plan is largely a mix of healthy-eating and better-exercise initiatives but also includes several, more-innovative suggestions including zoning changes, tax breaks and steps to promote breast feeding, which some studies show reduces the likelihood of childhood obesity.

The Institute of Medicine announced the recommendations Tuesday morning at the National Academy of Sciences Building, in Washington, D.C., following a study that began last year. The Institute was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences.

The group suggests local governments permit breast-feeding in public place, rescind laws or regulations discouraging or prohibiting the practice and “encourage lactation rooms in public places.”

A 1981 study linked breast-feeding to lower obesity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said later studies have shown only “varying degrees of support for this effect.”

More than 16 percent of children and adolescents are obese, compared to about 5.5 percent roughly 30 years ago, according to the CDC, which co-funded the study.

The group hopes the initiatives will keep children from the ranks of the roughly 66 percent of adult Americans who are overweight or obese. Obese children and adolescents have an increased risk of developing hypertension, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, according to studies.

Among the other highlights of the recommendations, which focus on outside-of-school time, were to change zoning laws or offer tax credits to bring healthy-food stores to low-income neighborhoods, reduce the amount of TV and computer “screen time” children spend in pre- and after-school programs, add calorie counts to restaurant menus such as those in New York City and put candy-free check-out lines in grocery stores.

The 13-member committee that conducted the study included Eduardo J. Sanchez, chairman and chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas; Joseph A. Curtatone, mayor of Somerville, Mass.; and Susan Handy, a professor of environmental science and policy at University of California at Davis.

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