In a Seminar printed in this week's issue of THE LANCET, Cara B Ebbeling and colleagues, from the USA, discuss the public-health crisis that is childhood obesity. Fat children, historically thought of as healthy, are now known to be at risk of many serious physiological and psychological complications. People who are obese are likely to die earlier than those who are not overweight.
The authors discuss the complications associated with obesity, outline the extent and causes of the epidemic, and discuss strategies for prevention and treatment. Their conclusion, however, is not an optimistic one--obesity is a common problem that extracts an enormous toll in health-care costs and human suffering, and for which there is no effective cure.
The message of this Seminar is clear: "The childhood obesity epidemic can be primarily attributed to adverse environmental factors for which straightforward, if politically difficult, solutions exist." The sobering truth is that no amount of research alone will solve the problem of obesity in children without comprehensive measures to address the "toxic environment". These measures should target the many factors that "promote energy intake and limit energy expenditure in children, undermining individual efforts to maintain a healthy bodyweight".
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