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“We should act now”: Stanford expert calls for more targeted anti-obesity policies

U. S. Department of Agriculture's Food Nutrition Service (FNS) helps educate shoppers about the value of food labeling in December 1975. Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

Reality TV shows like “The Biggest Loser” are popular in part because the audience can relate to the participants — more than two-thirds of adults and about one-third of children and adolescents are obese or overweight in the U.S. The Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared obesity to be a national epidemic and a major contributor to leading causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Although our country is committed to finding solutions to the increase in obesity, public policies have fallen short, according to Deborah Rhode, JD, a Stanford law professor and legal ethics scholar. In a recent journal article, she wrote:

Many policy responses have proven controversial, and those most often recommended have frequently faced an uphill battle at the federal, state, and local level. At the same time that obesity rates have been rising sharply, many jurisdictions have resisted, or rolled back, strategies such as soda taxes or regulation of advertising directed at children.

In the article, Rhode goes on to evaluate anti-obesity policies, including calorie disclosure requirements, taxes or bans on sugar-sweetened beverages, food stamp modifications, zoning regulations, children’s marketing restrictions, physical activities initiatives, food policies and education. She suggests that a more targeted approach is needed to combat obesity. For instance, Rhode recommends creative zoning regulations that restrict the location of fast-food restaurants near schools while encouraging healthy food retailers in underserved neighborhoods.

In a Stanford news release, Rhode noted that the first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity applies to politics as well as physical activity. Rhode summarized, “Although we need more evaluation of policy strategies, we know enough about what works to chart a course of reform. We should act now on what we know.”

Jennifer Huber, PhD, is a science writer with extensive technical communications experience as an academic research scientist, freelance science journalist, and writing instructor.

Previously: Finding the sweet spot in public health law to regulate sugary drinksStudy shows banning soda purchase using food stamps would reduce obesity and type-2 diabetesCapturing the metabolic signature of obesity and How to combat childhood obesity? Try everything
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

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