Penn Researchers Call for Obesity Prevention Efforts to Focus on Community-Wide Systems

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Media Contact:Katie Delach | Katie.Delach@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-5964May 31, 2012

National data show that currently more than 10 percent of preschoolers in the United States are obese, and an additional 10 percent are overweight. In a recently published article, a researcher from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with peers and colleagues from across the nation, says that effective strategies to target pregnancy, infancy, and toddlers are urgently needed to stop the progression of childhood obesity. The call to action comes just weeks after the release of a recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and an HBO documentary, "The Weight of the Nation," both of which focused on the nation's growing obesity epidemic. The full text of the article is available in the June issue of Childhood Obesity.

The authors point to evidence which shows that over the past several generations behavioral and societal changes have led to the obesity epidemic, with attendant health and economic consequences demanding new scientific approaches, policy, and actions. Obesity, they say, is a complex problem involving multiple factors including the family, community structures and services, and broad societal forces. That these contributors are interrelated only adds complexity to the issue, which ultimately results in a growing epidemic.

"A systems approach would link interventions in a variety of settings and take into account both behavioral and environmental factors. The importance of taking a broader look at these factors is further evidenced by the recent IOM report which provides a road map for how we can continue to make progress in preventing obesity," said Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, professor of Epidemiology at Penn Medicine. "In this article, we propose an ambitious but achievable approach that focuses on tackling obesity at the earliest stages of life, and within the larger community, not just at the individual level."

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