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The Physicians Committee



How to Beat the High Cost of Childhood Obesity

Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent fighting the obesity epidemic each year. But fruits and vegetables would better stimulate the healthy growth of our nation’s children. At PCRM’s National Conference on Childhood Obesity, top scientists and policy experts shared research and proposed unique solutions for this crisis.

Healthy kidOn June 18 and 19, in Washington, D.C., PCRM sponsored the National Conference on Childhood Obesity: Confronting the Epidemic through Nutrition Research and Policy. More than a dozen speakers addressed this national emergency.

Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., author of The Fattening of America, discussed how childhood obesity is affecting the U.S. economy as gravely as it affects the health of children.

“The average U.S. taxpayer pays $175 per year to finance obesity,” said Dr. Finkelstein, who presented a talk entitled The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It. “Obesity increases the nation’s health care bill by more than $90 billion per year.”

But the toll this epidemic takes on our wallets is just the beginning. The most tragic consequences cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Obesity is linked to several of the leading causes of death in the United States. Experts fear an exponential increase in several life-threatening health problems, such as heart disease, strokes, and cancer, as today’s youth grow older.

What’s the major factor contributing to the obesity epidemic and these chronic diseases? Cheap meat, according Barry Popkin, Ph.D., director of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He blames federal policies that favor big agribusiness and make red and processed meats—both proven to promote certain cancers and cardiovascular disease—readily available.

Millions of school children consume these unhealthful meats every school day, largely because the federal government funnels such products into school lunchrooms. The Child Nutrition Act (CNA), which plays a critical role in determining what foods are served in the National School Lunch Program, has posed a long-standing obstacle to providing students with more healthful fare. The fundamental problem with the CNA is that it’s designed to benefit American agribusiness—not our kids’ school lunches.

But Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., who is on the House Education and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over the CNA, and Alejandra Ceja, an adviser to the committee, both spoke at the conference and will be able to take back expert advice to the committee.

Throughout the conference, real-time updates—including provocative quotes from the presenters—were posted on Twitter. In addition to the individual presentations, two days of panel discussions were moderated by Neal Barnard, M.D., PCRM president. These addressed whether government and industry should be responsible for childhood obesity and if every school should offer vegetarian options.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Cancer Project and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. The George Washington University Medical Center and PCRM were the conference’s continuing medical education sponsors, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future was a conference partner.



 

PCRM Online, July 2009

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