Outlook: Obesity Epidemic

Pharmacy Times, February 2010 Infectious Disease, Volume 76, Issue 2

After decades of successive increases, American obesity rates finally appear to have hit a plateau, according to a recent report. Young boys are the exception, and may become the focus of national public health initiatives to address the issue of obesity in the coming years.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (January 13, 2010), used height and weight measurements collected from American adults, and compared it with similar data from 1999-2000. The statistics for 2007-2008 showed that 34% of individuals studied qualified as obese, with 64% qualifying as either overweight or obese—still an extremely high rate of prevalence, but consistent with figures from 1999-2000.

In an accompanying study, statistics for children and adolescents revealed a similar plateau, except for one group. Between 1999-2000 and 2007-2008, there was a significant increase in high body mass index for young and adolescent boys, age 6 to 19, whose weight was at or above the 97th percentile. “The heaviest boys may be getting even heavier,” the researchers wrote.

The authors of the study stress the need for continued research to pin down “behavioral, biological, and environmental factors” contributing to consistently high and, in the case of some boys, rising obesity rates.

In 2010, First Lady Cultivates Eggplants, Enthusiasm

Thanks in part to First Lady Michelle Obama, 2009 was a big year for vegetables. It began with her decision in March to tear up the White House’s South Lawn to make room for a vegetable garden. Since then, she has made it her mission to broadcast a message of healthy eating to all Americans, especially children.

So far, the garden has succeeded on multiple counts. School groups have visited the White House grounds throughout the year to learn how to grow and cook fresh produce. More than 1000 lb of leafy greens, snap peas, sweet potatoes, eggplants, and other vegetables have been harvested from the backyard plot. The garden has also successfully initiated a national dialogue surrounding food and nutrition.

In her speech at the US Mayor’s Conference in January, Michelle Obama announced her intention to partner with local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to increase access to nutritious food in schools and communities, provide greater opportunities for physical activity, and improve access to accurate health and nutrition information for parents. “Ultimately,” Obama urged, “it’s going to take all of us working together to help families make commonsense changes so our kids can get, and stay, healthy.”

For “Slimming” Snacks and Beverages, Companies Target Asian Market

The US market for packaged weightloss products is nearing its saturation point, new research reports. A slight but successive dip in the value of the market for weight-loss products, noted by Euromonitor International, suggests American consumers may be losing interest in diet foods and anti-fat supplements.

This change, combined with rising obesity rates in Asia, has caused many companies to shift focus away from the US market and toward China and India. According to statistics published in the Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), 51 new weight-control products were introduced in India in 2009, compared with 22 in 2008 and 5 in 2005. While Chinese consumers were introduced to fewer weight-loss products overall, growth of the market was significant, with 21 products introduced in 2009 but only 1 new product in 2005, according to GNPD figures.

Social and cultural factors may also influence Asian consumers’ interest in weight control products. A recent survey conducted by Reader’s Digest studied the responses of 16,000 people in 16 countries to examine global attitudes toward weight. In China, 37% of respondents said they had taken weight-loss pills. In India, 68% of respondents complained that the culture placed too great an emphasis on weight, and 50% blamed their genes for weight problems. Greater external pressure to be thin and growing insecurities about weight could make these demographics more likely to seek assistance from a product to help manage weight.

Let Them Drink Soda?

Reports linking consumption of supersweet drinks to excessive weight gain have been so convincing that some are even pushing for a “soda tax” to discourage frequent imbibers. Mark A. Pereira, PhD, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Food Science and Nutrition Department, is questioning the simplicity of that link.

Pereira examined the diets, lifestyles, and weight of 2294 boys and girls from Minneapolis/St. Paul over a 5-year period. When they were 15, Pereira’s team asked them about their drinking habits for milk, sweetened punch, sodas, and fruit juice. After 5 years, no visible link emerged between consumption of sugar-added drinks and weight gain.

The links for milk and diet soda were more observable. Teenagers who frequently drank regular milk seemed less likely to gain weight, while those who drank diet soda tended to gain more weight. Although other studies have reported a similar link between diet sodas and weight gain, Pereira specified that the link in his study was accounted for by overall dieting practices. â–