Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Cost of Obesity

A recent National Academy of Sciences report, "Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance", described how the best way to fight the increasing obesity youth epidemic is to reform a number of separate yet interrelated social sectors. From the report’s Sept. 30, 2004 press release:

"We must act now and we must do this as a nation," said Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for academic health affairs, Emory University, Atlanta, and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Koplan chaired the committee of 19 experts in child health, nutrition, fitness, and public health who developed the report in response to a request from Congress for an obesity prevention plan based on sound science and the most promising approaches.

"Obesity may be a personal issue, but at the same time, families, communities, and corporations all are adversely affected by obesity and all bear responsibility for changing social norms to better promote healthier lifestyles," Koplan added. "We recognize that several of our recommendations challenge entrenched aspects of American life and business, but if we are not willing to make some fundamental shifts in our attitudes and actions, obesity's toll on our nation's health and well-being will only worsen.

“ Among specific steps recommended by the report is a call for schools to implement nutritional standards for all foods and beverages served on school grounds, including those from vending machines.”

The Insitute of Medicine's Prevention of Obesity in Children and Youth program website continues to show the costs that society carries for such issues by showing that “Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999. After adjusting for inflation and converting to 2004 dollars, the national healthcare expenditures related to obesity and overweight in adults alone range from $98 billion to $129 billion annually.”

Obesity and diabetes discussion are dominating most health discussions these days, including a cover story by Time and expanded coverage around a TIME/ABC News Summit on Obesity. The executive summary mentions items the attendess disagreed on as well as these items of agreement: “The challenge is to shift from an economy and eating habits that are quantity-driven to ones that are quality-driven… Our economy and longstanding government policies are based on providing plentiful, cheap — and often low-quality food. That needs to change.”

At the summit, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said

" As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years... it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within."

Together these facts and concerns show the realities of how some of our current ag, nutrition, and education policies are affecting our children’s health, and our public health system financially. The calls for needing social norm-busting approaches is clear, and a new approach that impacts what we feed our children has been mentioned from those within our federal government. Since changing what people feed their children at home is extremely difficult and brings in to play invasion of privacy arguments, we can collectively utilize our public funds to address these issues.

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