Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Obesity a weighty problem for nation


We Americans are too fat. We don't exercise enough. We eat too much junk food. And it's costing us plenty. A new study of obesity-related health expenditures pegs the price tag at $75 billion in 2003. Nationally, that sent a $39 billion bill to taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid, according to the study in the journal Obesity Research.

While the figure may be, well, inflated - obesity is not the only cause of many obesity-related ailments - it points to a problem that is clearly putting great pressure on nation's health care system. More ominous is that children develop weight-related illnesses at earlier ages.

Maybe that's why the Kentucky House last week passed a bill to ban sugary or fatty foods from being sold in school vending machines.

The lawmakers' intentions are right, but banning the foods outright may not be the best approach. What is forbidden usually becomes all the more enticing for most kids. A better way may be to make a full range of food choices, including "junk" snacks, available, while teaching nutritional balance in classes and boosting physical education, which has suffered in many schools. Besides, kids at school usually reflect the habits they've acquired at home. "When parents are buying French fries and hamburgers for their children all the time, then that's part of the problem," bill opponent Rep. Charles Miller, D-Louisville, told the Associated Press.

Restricting choices should never be the first option, and the less government is involved in anti-obesity efforts, the better. A better idea, as state Sen. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, told the Enquirer, is to put resources into obesity prevention, especially to "make sure students are getting proper nutritional facts while they are young."

Plenty of private entities are ready to step up and lead the fight against obesity (see box). Reversing the trend won't be easy - it takes discipline, commitment and effort - but it will pay dividends for our society.

'Spark' yourself thin

The SparkCincinnati campaign aims to help Greater Cincinnatians become more fit through exercise and nutrition. It holds a New Years Resolution Bash 6-9 p.m. Thursday in the Paul Brown Stadium club lounge east. Among the sponsors are the YMCA, Red Cross and American Heart Association. Information: www.SparkCincinnati.com or (513) 241-6470.

More oversight of developers
Obesity a weighty problem for nation
Tell us your reaction to the N.H. primary
Out-of-touch Kennedy no role model
Letters to the editor