Childhood obesity rates have reached staggering levels and obesity has nearly surpassed smoking as the leading cause of preventable death among Americans, according to a new Datamonitor report.
Today, only 8 per cent of elementary schools provide daily physical education. With inadequate meal choices at schools and a shocking lack of physical activity, according to the report, children are often unequipped to make balanced and healthy lifestyle decisions.
The Datamonitor report also found that 61 per cent of American adults are overweight and 25 per cent of 6-17 year old children are overweight, with cases of childhood obesity nearly tripling in the past 20 years.
The 'Childhood Obesity 2002' report examines the factors leading to this epidemic and the initial preventative steps that are being taken to curb the problem. Often causing devastating health problems that prevail well into adulthood, the US is facing an epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down, it claims. "Obesity related annual hospital costs have quadrupled in the last two decades, soaring to well over $130 million and fuelling the fire in the search to place blame."
New scientific studies are linking production and marketing activities of food and drink manufacturers to the incidence rates of obesity, making litigation a plausible threat for these companies. According to Datamonitor's latest research, in order to ensure future success and rise above potential legal action, food and beverage manufacturers must first address issues of product labelling, likely to be the initial area of attack on manufacturers. In addition, leveraging new opportunities, such as the likely rise in teenage vegetarianism, will be key.
Currently, insurance companies are picking up the related healthcare costs but their patience is wearing thin, noted the report. Eventually, a rise in premiums will put the burden back onto consumers themselves. It also points to the Southwest Airlines' requirement that a passenger who occupies more than one seat must purchase that seat, as another significant development demonstrating the deterioration of public patience.
Although slow, initial progress in the battle against obesity is being made however. For example, in August, one Los Angeles school district voted unanimously to extend their ban on carbonated soft drinks. The ban, already in place in elementary schools, will now encompass the district's approximately 200 middle and high schools. In a display of government support, the IRS has changed tax laws such that healthcare expenses related to the curing of obesity, including health club memberships and diet medications, are tax deductible.
PepsiCo is pushing to make at least 50 per cent of their food and beverage products "nutritious" - cutting fat and adding ingredients such as broccoli to their snacks. McDonalds will be using new oil for their fries and Chicken McNuggets, supposedly reducing trans-fatty acids by 48 per cent.
Datamonitor added that new evidence is uncovered daily showing impending legislation and additional product taxation are becoming very viable threats to food and beverage manufacturers nationwide. "Today, no one is exempt from potential legal action and companies must take immediate steps to become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem," the company said.
Addressing issues of product labelling, which are likely to be the first area of attack in the battle against manufacturers, and leveraging trends such as vegetarianism, will all be imperative to the success and longevity of these companies.