Thursday, January 28, 2010

Surgeon General Releases First Position Paper; Joins First Lady's Child Obesity Campaign

Dr. Benjamin lays out recommendations for a healthier America, to combat obesity and improve quality of life
Today, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin tossed her Staff of Aesculapius into the public ring, with the release of her very first report, The Surgeon General's Vision For a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010.  She's calling on all Americans to join First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to combat child obesity, in a "grassroots effort" to reverse the nationwide trend in America.  The Department of Health and Human Services report puts the weight of science and America's Doctor behind many of the initiatives Mrs. Obama has spoke about and developed during her first year in the White House .

The paper was released today at an event held at an Alexandria, Virginia, YMCA, which Mrs. Obama attended with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. That particular venue was chosen because encouraging physical activity is an important part of Mrs. Obama's campaign, and also included in the Surgeon General's recommendations. (Dr. Benjamin, above, speaks as Mrs. Obama looks on; Sec. Sebelius is at right)

The First Lady lauded the report, and thanked Dr. Benjamin.

"The report is not only timely but it's right on point. And your perspective, your new way of looking at this issue, is refreshing, and again it's right on point," Mrs. Obama told Dr. Benjamin. "It's presenting both the dangers of inaction, and a vision for health for this country. It's an incredible step in a long journey that we'll have to take."

The report parses recent obesity studies, and explains why Americans need to be worried about these.

"Our nation stands at a crossroads," Dr. Benjamin writes. "Today’s epidemic of overweight and obesity threatens the historic progress we have made in increasing American’s quality and years of healthy life...every one of us has an important role to play in the prevention and control of obesity. Mothers, fathers, teachers, business executives, child care professionals, clinicians, politicians, and government and community leaders."

That's Mrs. Obama's position, too, obviously; she announced last week when speaking to the US Conference of Mayors that her campaign will include a partnership between government, non-profit and private entities in a massive effort to reduce obesity. And like Mrs. Obama, the Surgeon General is asking for a national commitment to create neighborhood communities that are focused on healthy nutrition and physical activity, where the healthiest choices are accessible for all citizens.

The Surgeon General's full report is available here [PDF], and Dr. Benjamin's general recommendations, as posted on the HHS website, are below. These are fairly broad; the "vision" is currently like a Monet painting...a bit blurry. And the HHS reduction somehow leaves out Dr. Benjamin's advocacy for babies being exclusively breast fed until six months of age, which is a fairly radical notion to be foisting on the general public, when most mothers are also part of the workforce. But breastfeeding is critical for child health and metabolism, however, and there have been a number of studies that have shown the connection between breastfeeding (or lack thereof) and healthy weight. Dr. Benjamin's recommendations for healthy eating after breastfeeding are fairly straightforward, and also general: Reducing soda and sugary drink consumption; eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins; choosing low-fat or non-fat dairy products; drinking more water; portion control; reducing consumption of energy-dense foods that primarily contain added sugars and fats. The term "energy-dense food" might make little sense to citizens who have low food literacy--it makes no sense to this writer. Does it mean a candy bar? A sports bar? A chicken nugget? It's unclear.

The Surgeon General's recommendations:

Improving our communities – Neighborhoods and communities should become actively involved in creating healthier environments. The availability of supermarkets, outdoor recreational facilities and the limitation of advertisements of less healthy foods and beverages are all examples of ways to create a healthier living environment.

Healthy Choices and Healthy Home Environments – Change starts with the individual choices Americans make each day for themselves, their families and those around them. Reducing the consumption of sodas and juices with added sugars; eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; limiting television time; and being more physically active help us achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Creating Healthy Child Care Settings – It is estimated that more than 12 million children ages 0-6 receive some form of child care on a regular basis from someone other than their parents. Parents should talk with their child care providers about changes to promote their children’s health.

Creating Healthy Schools – To help students develop life-long health habits, schools should provide appealing healthy food options including fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, water and low-fat beverages. School systems should also require nutrition standards and daily physical education for students.

Creating Healthy Work Sites – Employers can implement wellness programs that promote healthy eating in cafeterias, encourage physical activity through group classes and create incentives for employees to participate.

Mobilizing Medical Communities – Medical care providers must make it a priority to teach their patients about the importance of good health. Doctors and other health care providers are often the most trusted source of health information and are powerful role models for healthy lifestyle habits.

Related: A post about the First Lady's YMCA event is here. A video of the event is here. The full transcript of the First Lady's remarks is here. During his State of the Union address, President Obama lauded Mrs. Obama's campaign. A post about Mrs. Obama's address to the US Conference of Mayors, when she asked them to join her campaign, is here. A post about the Healthy Kids Fair at the White House is here. The Surgeon General's website is here. The HHS website is here.