WASHINGTON – The plight of the plump American is no longer just a problem for the two-thirds of the population considered overweight or obese.
“It promises bankruptcy for the U.S. health care system,” said William H. Dietz,director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity,referring to the amount of money poured into surgery to deal with obesity.
Dietz was part of a breakfast panel of lawmakers,health experts and researchers who came together Thursday to discuss options to prevent the continuing obesity epidemic. Most of the crowd avoided the large basket of muffins and instead dined on fruit and yogurt.
Sen. Richard Burr,R-N.C.,said medical expenses for overweight and obese patients have reached $93 billion a year,with half of these costs being paid by Medicaid and Medicare.
“As we sit here today,we are raising obese children,” Burr said. “And then we wonder why health care costs skyrocket.”
Burr called the panel a first step in a lengthy process to develop policies to deal with the obesity epidemic.
One-third of adults in the United States are obese,or about 50 pounds overweight,and an estimated 65 percent of adults are either overweight or obese,said Dietz. Two-thirds of the nation's cases of heart disease and diabetes are linked to obesity.
Americans are well aware that their waistlines have continued to expand,even after federal health officials announced obesity had reached epidemic status,Dietz said.
“We no longer have to focus on its prevalence,” Dietz said. “I think we've done that. We need to focus on what to do about it.”
Doug Evans,director of the Center of Health Promotion Research at RTI International,said extensive surveys of public opinions toward obesity show people are increasingly aware of the problem and most would support an increase in obesity education and regulation of television advertising for junk food.
“What they don't support is taxing people and increasing the cost of foods,” Evans said.
President Bush's proposed 2006 budget would hit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a $500 million cut. A Public Health Service program to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity would lose $60 million.
“We know that the administration has a lot of competing priorities,” said Kathy Harben,an agency spokeswoman in Atlanta. “We are relieved that we haven't had any across-the-board cuts.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin,executive director of the American Public Health Association,said the cuts,which include a program designed to promote physical activity among children,are a direct assault on the nation's efforts to combat obesity.
“All of our efforts ought to be focused on our kids. It's one of the few programs out there that we know that works,” Benjamin said.
A $130 million preventive health and services block grant was also among the cuts. “The loss of these programs will cause a direct result in increasing obesity and then,as a result,increase federal spending in the future,” Benjamin said. “It's makes no sense.”
Harben said the cuts would not affect the agency's obesity prevention programs in 28 states. The programs are funded by grants ranging from $300,000 to $800,000.
Dietz said the statewide obesity prevention programs had not been in place long enough to determine if they have been effective.
“It's going to be a while before we know if they have an impact on obesity prevalence rates,” Dietz said.
One of the agency's national health objectives is to cut to 15 percent the number of obese adults by 2010.