Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Obesity Epidemic

Hardly a month goes by in which there is not another major news item about the obesity problem in this country. The statistics show a striking increase in obesity among people in the U. S. over the past few decades, to the extent that it is not an exaggeration to call it an "epidemic".

And now this past Wednesday comes a major report linking obesity to cancer. Quoting from the USA Today story:

"This was a much larger impact than even the researchers expected," says Karen Collins, a cancer institute nutrition adviser. "People forget body fat is not an inert glob that we are carrying around on the waistline and thighs. It's a metabolically active tissue that produces substances in the body that promote the development of cancer."

The story emphasizes that "no amount of processed meat is considered completely safe."

What we should do about this on an individual basis is rather obvious. However, the interesting policy question is what the government should be doing. Certainly the government could undertake a national campaign against obesity, similar to the anti-smoking campaign which has been waged since the Surgeon-General's report came out in the 1960's.

Most striking in the stats is the huge increase in childhood obesity over the past few decades. This points the finger directly at the schools, which could and should be doing so much more to promote a healthy, active lifestyle. No candy or pop should be sold in the schools. Here in Wichita we went through this issue a few years ago, with the conclusion that pop machines were going to be still be allowed in the high schools, because of all the revenue they generated from the pop companies. The tax increase needed to offset this lost revenue would have been less than a dollar a year per Wichitan. And yet, the School Board cowardly caved in to the pop lobby.

Another policy change would be to require phys ed every year throughout a child's 12 years of public education. Schools should be in session longer each day, with an hour at the end for phys ed, like is done in China. Increased mandatory health education should be required, emphasizing nutrition and exercise as important for good health.

We have become a nation of couch potatoes, but this trend can be reversed. Otherwise, we will crumble from within like the Rman Empire centuries ago.

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