Obesity In America: Solutions From the Institute of Medicine

We know fruits and vegetables are good for us. But we’re surrounded by calorie-dense junk. And we sit, a lot.  That’s our current culture.  And it’s led to the epidemic of obesity in America.  What to do? In a compelling new report, the Institute of Medicine spells out solutions.

In a new report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” the Institute of Medicine asserted what we all know: Our nation is experiencing an epidemic of obesity. Two-thirds of U.S. adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese.

But in the 478-page report* by the IOM’s Food and Nutrition Board, we also heard something new: Though will power, or personal responsibility, matters, we need to give will power a fighting chance. We need to spearhead changes that promote rather than obstruct healthy living, and in all sectors of society, including schools, corporations, the government, and the media.

We’re genetically “hard wired,” as Pritikin faculty have taught for decades, to crave calories, and lots of them. That’s what kept us alive for most of human history.

Toxic environment

“We live in a toxic environment,” sums up Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “We know, for example, that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but we’re surrounded, 24/7, by cheeseburgers, pizzas, and cokes.”

And we’re genetically “hard wired,” as Pritikin faculty have taught for decades, to crave calories, and lots of them. That’s what kept us alive for most of human history. In a world of famine, those who were really good at packing it in and packing it on lived long enough to pass their genes, including their “eat-everything-in-sight” ones, to the next generation.

Our world of plenty has only been around for about 100 years, hardly enough time for our bio-chemical systems to adapt to it. So endlessly, many of us eat. In their book The Evolution of Obesity, Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin described this disconnect between our DNA and our environment well: “We evolved on the savannahs of Africa. We now live in Candyland.”

“We evolved on the savannahs of Africa. We now live in Candyland.” – The Evolution of Obesity

This Candyland culture negatively affects us all and “threatens our national security,” pointed out the IOM scientific team, which included leading researchers like Christina Economos, PhD, of Tufts University. Obesity costs us $190 billion yearly in medical expenses and productivity.

Full-court press on fat

To be truly effective in the war on obesity, we need a full-court press on fat, the involvement of all facets of society, the IOM report asserts. We must see obesity as a national problem that calls for nothing less than a change in our national culture. “Obesity is both an individual and societal concern, and it will take action from all of us – individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole – to achieve a healthier society,” stated IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg, PhD.

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Drawing from an assessment of more than 800 obesity prevention recommendations to identify those that could work together most effectively, the IOM report spells out a detailed and extensive plan. It includes strategies and action steps that “aim to support individuals’ and families’ abilities to make healthy choices where they work, learn, eat, and play.”

Below are key goals outlined by the Institute of Medicine:
  • We seek to support individual responsibility by encouraging schools, businesses, governments, and the media to offer and promote healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Our schools should offer healthy food, 60 minutes of daily exercise, and nutrition education.
  • Our workplaces and neighborhoods should make opportunities for physical activity readily available.
  • Restaurants and the food industry need to develop and promote healthy, tasty options.
  • We should take full advantage of physicians’ roles to advocate for obesity prevention with patients and in the community.
  • The media is encouraged to develop ethical nutritional guidelines for advertising food, especially to children and adolescents.
  • Governments should be responsible for advocating and supporting these and other programs designed to promote the national health and welfare.

TOFI

The good news, too, is that these goals would help not only Americans diagnosed as overweight but also those who appear normal weight (according to the bathroom scale) but have bodies composed of too much fat and too little muscle. They’re often described by scientists as TOFI (Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside).

Their high fat-to-muscle ratio puts them, like people who are outwardly overweight, at high risk for life-threatening conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Bottom line:

The new Institute of Medicine report affirms what you, our Pritikin alumni, already know: If you adopt a healthy lifestyle, you can prevent or reverse the illnesses related to obesity, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and several forms of cancer.

“It’s all about creating a climate of support,” sums up Ronald Scheib, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “It’s essentially what we do here at Pritikin.”

IOM urges all of society to work together to support people to live healthier, leaner lives. With this all-hands-on-deck approach, we can help avert the impending economic and health crises.

Climate of support

“It’s all about creating a climate of support,” sums up Ronald Scheib, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “It’s essentially what we do here at Pritikin. All facets of our Center – our doctors, chefs, dietitians, and exercise physiologists – help people love the flavors of healthy food, enjoy the vitality of regular exercise, and appreciate new-found health.”

“Healthy lifestyle change takes personal initiative, and it also takes a village,” adds Danine Fruge, MD, Associate Medical Director at Pritikin.

The IOM’s blueprint for action, and call for unified commitment, “can produce a cultural change that saves individual health, and the health of a nation,” concludes Dr. Fruge.


* http://iom.edu/Reports/2012/Accelerating-Progress-in-Obesity-Prevention/Report-Brief.aspx

The Institute of Medicine report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” is being released in conjunction with the “Weight of the Nation,” an HBO documentary series presented in collaboration with IOM, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, and in partnership with Kaiser Permanente and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

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