Imagine an America with no grandparents. Imagine an America where our health begins to fail at 60, and an 80th birthday is unfathomable. Imagine our Nation with the fewest seniors in the world. That will soon be a reality, if we don’t act. Over the past 40 years, the number of obese American children has increased by over 400%. If this epidemic is not mitigated, 23 million children run the risk of being the first American generation to live shorter life spans than their parents.
If left unabated, obesity will threaten America’s security and financial stability. We already see indicators of this trend. Childhood obesity costs $14 billion annually in preventable medical expenses, indirect costs, and lost productivity. A recent study conducted by retired military officers found 9 million American young men and women of recruiting age “too fat to fight.”
An estimated 23 million youth ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight. These rates have tripled in the past 30 years. Obese children are at risk of growing into obese adults who do not participate fully in the workforce because of employment discrimination, lost productivity due to illness and disability, and premature death.
But this situation can be avoided. Today, Congress, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the public and private sectors are uniting to combat childhood obesity by promoting public awareness and disseminating information about health food and diet.
I have been on the front lines of this public information campaign and a leading voice in the effort to do something about the epidemic in Congress through good public policy. Last November, I introduced the Healthy Kids Act, which points out these disconcerting statistics and provides critical federal leadership on the issue by establishing an Office of Childhood Overweight and Obesity Prevention and Treatment (COOPT) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Director, acting as the government’s point person on obesity prevention, would be charged with evaluating the effectiveness of existing policies, programs, and research efforts, identifying future needs, and supporting the implementation of a comprehensive, long-term, national campaign to prevent overweight and obesity among our children and youth.
One of the Director’s key tasks in helping children adopt healthy eating patterns and understanding their nutritional needs would be to work with the Secretary of Agriculture to identify 3 categories, or tiers, of foods and beverages-healthy, acceptable and no nutritional value. The food tiers, in turn, would be used to update the standards for school lunches.
More recently, I co-sponsored legislation designating September 2010 as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. This summer, I participated in several visibility campaigns with the Department of Education and the First Lady to promote outdoor activity among school aged children. And with summer winding to a close and the new school year kicking into gear, now is a great time to raise awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic and inspire parents and other lawmakers to act.
The obesity epidemic is one of the most urgent threats to our economy and to our future generations. The good news is that by working together to promote awareness and encourage a new way of thinking about physical activity, it is possible to put our children back on the path to longer, happier and more productive lives.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.