Monday, June 30, 2003

Obesity a serious threat, expert says

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Americans need to make healthier life choices to prevent the increase of obesity, especially among children and teens, a U.S. Surgeon General's representative said Sunday.

"The fastest-growing cause of illness and death in America today is obesity," said Lt. Commander Lucienne Nelson of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "If we don't do something about this, we will have a morbidly obese dysfunctional population."

Her call to action was part of the National Association of School Nurses' 35th annual conference at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. The event, attended by about 1,100 nurses from around the nation, concludes Tuesday.Adolescent obesity has tripled since 1980. Some 15 percent - or about 9 million - of the nation's children and teens aged 6-17 years are affected, says Nelson, who also is special assistant to the nation's chief nursing officer.

It can lead to several other health problems, including diabetes, asthma, depression and heart disease. At least one-third of all cancers are caused by poor nutrition and being overweight.

"It's absolutely unacceptable that Type 2 diabetes is now found in children as young as 8 years old," Nelson said. "It's happening because our children are more sedentary and overweight than ever before."

Type 2 diabetes was once mainly associated with adults, but is now being increasingly identified in children.

Adults need to be teaching children about healthy living, and acting as role models, Nelson added. That includes having a balanced diet, not smoking and daily exercise.

"More than a third of American high schoolers don't engage in any vigorous physical activity ever," Nelson said. "We are seeing a generation of kids who grew up off the playground and on the PlayStation."

Obesity is a problem nurses are focusing on locally as well, said Kim Toole, a nursing supervisor with Cincinnati Health Department."It's ingrained in our society," said Toole, who attended the conference. "And it is really, really difficult to deal with. We see it in every school, in every neighborhood."

The Hamilton County and city health departments are applying for grants that would increase preventative programs for children, including those that focus on diabetes and obesity, she said.

The Surgeon General and Public Health Services are focusing on preventive medicine in other areas as well. Nelson said the president's 2004 budget includes a $125 million increase in community-based lifestyle programs aimed at preventing diabetes, obesity and asthma.

Surgeon General Richard Carmona also is talking with children nationwide as part of his "50 Schools in 50 States" initiative.

"There's a simple prescription that can end America's obesity epidemic: every American needs to eat healthy food in healthy portions and be physically active every day," Nelson said. "There's no age limit on making healthy choices. ... Good health habits don't have an expiration date."



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