The nation's battle of the bulge has caught the attention of Congress. Concerned lawmakers are weighing in with legislation that aims to reduce obesity, particularly among children and teenagers.
"It's critical that we act to raise awareness of healthy behavior and the risks of obesity," said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., who introduced a bill this summer to encourage better nutrition and more physical activity. "Obesity is for the most part preventable."
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The Tennessee Republican's "Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act" or "IMPACT Act" would spend $60 million in 2004 to fund community organizations to conduct a variety of education, intervention and outreach programs, including school-based activities, with $5 million specifically allotted to eating disorders.
In addition, it would instruct practicing health professionals about proper methods to diagnose, treat, and prevent obesity and eating disorders and would also make those disorders a priority for an existing grant program that trains health profession students.
The legislation is backed by a bipartisan group of heavyweight senators that includes Democrats Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
"Obesity is our nation's fastest rising public health problem," said Senator Bingaman. "This legislation begins to tackle those serious problems by advancing proven and innovative strategies designed to get people moving, eating well and engaged in healthy lifestyles."
A Bulging America
Obesity has risen at an epidemic rate in the United States in the past 20 years. Today, more than half of American adults and 13 percent of the nation's children and teens are overweight, according to government statistics. Alarmingly, there are nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents now as there were in 1980. Overweight kids are more likely to become overweight or obese adults.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease and certain cancers as well as Type II diabetes, arthritis, breathing problems and depression. An estimated 300,000 deaths in the United States each year are associated with obesity and the economic cost was pegged at about $117 billion in 2000.
The "IMPACT Act" would also authorize a study by the Institute of Medicine to determine whether Department of Agriculture programs, such as the national school lunch program, contribute to preventing or enhancing obesity. More than 26 million American children eat a free or reduced-priced school meal each day.
The Hill Gets Tough on Expanding Waistlines
This is just the tip of the legislative iceberg on Capitol Hill concerning children and nutrition. Congress has already voted to extend a pilot project that provides fresh fruit and vegetables to schools and there is proposed legislation that would promote increased consumption of milk in schools.
Republican Congressman Michael Castle of Delaware has also offered legislation to spur community and school-based activities to help reduce and prevent obesity among children and Republican Representative Judy Biggert of Illinois has introduced a bill to raise awareness about eating disorders.
"The time for action is now. We need to promote innovative ideas to prevent this already significant problem from getting any worse. Children are our future, and we must help to ensure that they understand the importance of healthy living," said Congressman Castle.