WASHINGTON (AP) — Women could help reduce childhood obesity by maintaining a healthy weight when they become pregnant and by breast-feeding their babies, a U.S. government panel has found.
The suggestions were among 70 recommendations in the panel's report. First Lady Michelle Obama released the findings Tuesday as part of her campaign against childhood obesity.
One in 3 American children is overweight or obese, putting them at higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other illnesses. Obesity is even more prevalent among black and Hispanic children. Some public health experts say today's children are on track to live shorter lives than their parents.
Mrs. Obama has said she wants to help solve the problem in a generation so babies born today will come of age at a healthy weight. The report says that could happen if childhood obesity rates dropped to 5 percent by 2030.
The report and its recommendations are advisory. One exception is that Congress has begun updating the guidelines for food served in schools, including those dished up by vending machines. Pending legislation would spend $4.5 billion more over 10 years for nutrition programs; the Obama administration has asked for more than twice that amount.
The report says a woman's weight before she becomes pregnant and her weight gain during pregnancy are two of the most important factors that determine, before a child is born, whether he or she will become obese.
Studies find that about 1 in 5 children become overweight or obese by age 6, and that more than half of obese children become overweight before the age of 2. Nearly 6 percent of infants younger than six months are overweight, the report says, up from 3.4 percent between 1980 and 2001.
Breast-feeding after birth also helps, as studies have found that children fed that way are 22 percent less likely to become obese.
Mrs. Obama has talked publicly about many of the recommendations that found their way in the report since launching her “Let's Move'' campaign in February, including having the appropriate agencies work with the food industry to put a standard nutrition label on the front of packaged goods.
The report calls on restaurants to consider portion sizes and post more calorie information. Other recommendations include updated federal nutritional standards for meals served at school; more school-based nutrition education; incentives to attract supermarkets to underserved areas; and an effort to get pediatricians to make a habit of calculating their patients' body mass index, a height-weight comparison used to measure fat.
A dozen federal agencies, including the Education, Agriculture, Health, Interior and Transportation departments, participated in the panel, which President Barack Obama created in February. The panel had 90 days to issue a report, and it sifted through more than 2,500 suggestions from the public on how to tackle the problem.
Photo: Michelle Obama