Health Experts Urge President-elect Obama to Take Bold Action to Reverse Obesity Epidemic

Hundreds of Thousands of Lives, Tens of Billions of Dollars at Stake, Experts Say

January 9, 2009

WASHINGTON—Bold action is needed to stem the obesity epidemic, or else today's children might be the first generation of Americans ever to lead shorter life spans than their parents. That's the urgent message delivered today to President-elect Barack Obama by 49 of the nation’s most prominent health and medical organizations and 44 prominent physicians and nutrition experts. The obesity epidemic is harming Americans' health just as global warming is harming the planet, the experts write in a letter to the next President, and requires the coordinated effort of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Transportation and other government officials.

"What is lacking is not well-conceived ideas for policies and programs, but a national commitment to wage a comprehensive campaign to prevent and reverse overweight and obesity, a war that should begin in the womb and infancy, extend to schools, then include workplaces, doctors' offices, and the general community," the letter states.

Organized by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the groups pressing President-elect Obama to take vigorous action include the American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, Shape Up America!, The Obesity Society, Partnership for Prevention and Trust for America's Health. Individuals signing the letter include George L. Blackburn of Harvard Medical School, Carlos A. Camargo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Kenneth H. Cooper of the Cooper Aerobics Center/Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Marion Nestle of New York University, and Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

In a confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, former Senator Tom Daschle, the Secretary-designate for HHS, spoke in support of several policies advocated by CSPI and other health advocates. "We aren’t going to address obesity and prevention and wellness unless we make better school lunches, and unless we take the junk food out of schools, and unless we put physical exercise back into the school curriculum," Daschle said.

"The harms caused by obesity are well-known and considerable: hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and many others," the letter to President-elect Obama continued. "Together those maladies contribute each year to as many as several hundred thousand deaths and tens of billions of dollars in medical and other costs.”

"The numerous possible approaches to reversing the obesity epidemic are well known, so they’re not itemized in the letter," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, a signatory to the letter. "What has been missing, particularly by officials in the Bush Administration, is the commitment to actually tackle the problem."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past three decades, rates of obesity have roughly doubled in adults and tripled in children, while almost two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Obesity costs families, businesses and government about $117 billion each year in health care and related costs.


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