Today President Obama signed a memorandum establishing a new federal task force tackling the growing problem of childhood obesity. I have, admittedly, been absent of the health care debate that has been the rage in Washington over the last few months. What I have noticed however, is the complete lack of acknowledgement of one of the most significant causes of our rising health care costs. I have heard that competition will bring costs down, that a paperless records system is the answer, that beating up on the evil insurance companies is the cause of our troubles, but not once have I heard a prominent political figure state that we as a nation have a weight problem.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research has shown that as weight increases to reach the levels referred to as "overweight" and "obesity," the risks for the following conditions also increases:
· Coronary heart disease
· Type 2 diabetes
· Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
· Hypertension (high blood pressure)
· Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
· Liver and Gallbladder disease
· Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
· Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
· Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)
Interestingly enough the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research has also shown that the leading causes of death in the United States are:
· Heart disease: 631,636
· Cancer: 559,888
· Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 137,119
· Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 124,583
· Accidents (unintentional injuries): 121,599
· Diabetes: 72,449
· Alzheimer's disease: 72,432
· Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,326
· Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,344
· Septicemia: 34,234
Any coincidence that they share many of the same titles? I just found those statistics in 31.6 seconds with two Google searches. Are we really going to ignore these statistics completely when talking about health care?
That is why I was so happy to read this article today regarding the formation of the children’s obesity task force. Although I think this should have been accomplished prior to tackling health care, the fact it is getting any attention at all is great. My wife has a strong interest in this challenging issue. She was a PE and Health teacher and is now a personal trainer. She was literally amazed at how many kids were overweight in her first year teaching. Yet every year school district after school district cuts funding for both PE and Health. With the statistics listed above it is blatantly obvious that weight is an issue in this country, and if people are handicapped by obesity at a very young age it makes it all the more difficult to break the behaviors as you get older. Unfortunately in many ways it is a parental lottery on whether or not a kid has a chance at dodging the obesity bullet. Luckily for me my parents instilled in me the importance of an active lifestyle. There are many other kids who don't have that support, or worse are the recipients of bad influence.
The task force, according to the memorandum, will have 90 days to craft a plan encouraging "optimal coordination" between the federal government and both the private and non-profit sectors, according to Obama.
Several Cabinet members, including the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, will serve on the task force. Its work will complement an aggressive public relations effort led by first lady Michelle Obama to raise public awareness of the issue.
Childhood obesity is "one of the most urgent health issues that we face in this country," the president said at the White House.
"We think that this has enormous promise in improving the health of our children, in giving support to parents to make the kinds of healthy choices that oftentimes are very difficult."
The results of the task force remain to be seen, and I am always skeptical of “new” government programs. However, the more attention paid to this issue the better. We have been avoiding the problem as a country for a while which is bad enough, but the problem is getting worse which makes dealing with the issue all the more critical.
The memo notes that almost one-third of American children are overweight or obese -- a rate that has tripled among adolescents and more than doubled in younger children since 1980.
About one-third of Americans born in the year 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime, according to the memo.
"We've seen the surge in obesity in this country is nothing short of a public health crisis, and it's threatening our children, it's threatening our families, and more importantly it's threatening the future of this nation," she said. "Higher rates of obesity are directly linked, as you've heard, to higher rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer and diabetes."
I am hopeful that the task force can come up with something substantial to tackle this mounting challenge. Perhaps some greater insight into what we are actually putting into our bodies would be good, although knowledge doesn't always stimulate prudent choices (cigarettes anyone?). Maybe legislating more stringent food additive laws and disclosure requirements would be a better use of time than playing congressional football with a polarizing issue like health care?