By 2010, one in five American children is predicted to be obese. Efforts to turn that tide are scattershot and underfunded, and the government has killed one of the few programs so far proven to work, specialists reported Wednesday.
Programs that target youngsters' growing waistlines are sprouting up around the country, an encouraging sign that the threat to children's health is being taken seriously, said the report by the Institute of Medicine.
But no one knows which programs really help kids slim down, the institute said in a call for research to identify best methods.
More troubling, the country lacks the national leadership needed to speed change, lamented an expert panel convened by the prestigious scientific group.
"Is this as important as stockpiling antibiotics or buying vaccines? I think it is," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan of Emory University, who led the IOM's expert panel. "This is a major health problem. It's of a different nature than acute infectious threats, but it needs to be taken just as seriously."
To reinforce that point, Wednesday's report spotlighted the government's VERB campaign, a program once promoted for spurring a 30 percent increase in exercise among the preteens it reached. That ended this year with Bush administration budget cuts, reports AP.
VERB encouraged 9- to 13-year-olds to do fun action-word physical activities, like bike riding or skateboarding. Slick ads, at a cost of $59 million (Ђ46.5 million) last year, conveyed exercise as cool at an age when outdoor play typically winds down and adolescent slothfulness sets in.
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