Giving Compass' Take:

• Research shows that childhood obesity is still on the rise. Deborah A. Cohen argues that personal restraint is insufficient to reverse the trend, and change is required at the societal level to make an impact on this issue. 

• How can philanthropy help curb the childhood obesity epidemic? How are child- and adulthood obesity related?

• Learn why school programs aimed at childhood obesity are unlikely to make an impact.  

It has been a mistake to treat childhood obesity as a separate subcategory of obesity. A school's food environment can be fixed, but as soon as children leave campus, they are exposed to the underlying cause of the epidemic—“food swamps” filled with fast-food places and convenience stores that aggressively market low-nutrient foods or offer excessive portions of food that set up people to eat more calories than they can burn.

The largest barrier to taking effective action is the mistaken belief that each individual has the capacity to ignore or transcend the food environment.

Most people lack full control over what and how much they eat. And science tells us that even when people know what is healthy and what is not, most people also have a limited ability to routinely make good decisions all the time.

Recognizing that people have limited self-control in many areas of their lives has led to public health regulations that have been enacted for our own self-protection. These laws include requirements for seatbelts in vehicles and guardrails on staircases, eliminating the sale of tobacco in vending machines, and laws against selling alcohol to youth.

Policies are needed that function like railings that restrain people from falling.

The food swamp could be addressed through societal action, which needs to focus on helping everyone—not just children—moderate their eating behaviors. This might be accomplished by addressing portion sizes as well as limiting the ubiquity and convenience of low-nutrient foods.

Read the full article about childhood obesity by Deborah A. Cohen at Rand.