Obesity battle taken to neighborhoods

UH’s Texas Obesity Research Center has been leading the fight against obesity. Its recently published guidelines by the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services confirm the center is on the right track.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published Jan. 31. The guidelines – which aim to promote health – reduce the risk of chronic diseases and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity, are published every five years.

“The new guidelines focus on increasing reliance on plant-based food sources, decreasing added sugars and fats, and increasing physical activity,” TORC Director Rebecca Lee said. “The new guidelines aim at appealing to a broader cross section of Americans and add physical activity into the mix, which is important for good health. Getting people to initiate and maintain healthier habits is really challenging.”

According to the USDA press release, more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese.

“Everyone will agree that they want to be healthy and live healthier lives, but nobody wants to restrict their diet and few people are willing to get even the minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days,” Lee said. “Since these kinds of changes are really hard for most people, policies and settings must favor these changes. It has to be really easy, economical and interesting to eat healthier and do physical exercise.”

The obesity epidemic is not just a problem in the home, but also in the schools.

Children are susceptible to becoming obese due to lack of healthy options in the school cafeteria and access to vending machines. Implementing these new dietary guidelines in the school system has its challenges.

“Depending on the school district and state policies, available resources to support the guidelines and interest from school leadership and parents,” Lee said. “We are working with HISD locally to help implement programs that improve dietary habits and increase physical activity.”

TORC, which launched in the fall of 2007, has three goals, according to its website: research activity and development, education and training and community service. One of its projects, the Science and Community project, organizes community meetings to pinpoint the obstacles each community faces in its battle with obesity.

“This is an epidemic of obesity which is creating a population that is sick and a huge burden on the health care system,” Lee said. “But the bottom line is that reducing the burden of obesity helps everyone, leading to people who live happy, healthy and productive lives and a country that is strong with a stronger economy to boot.”

TORC is a part of the Department of Health and Human Performance and had received some funding from the National Institutes of Health. To learn more about the center, visit For the complete dietary guidelines and for addtional information, visit

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