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Adam Thompson on August 30, 2007 - 7:43am
A new report from The Trust for America's Health concerning America's worsening obesity epidemic has received lots of press coverage, and little of the report's news is positive. Even in the leanest state, Colorado, where 17.6% of residents are now considered obese, an increase of just under one percentage point, a majority of residents are either obese or overweight. America's unhealthy weight gain is not slowing.
The new report, which includes extensive information on state legislation and programs to address the obesity epidemic, shows that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Unhealthy weight gain causes strain on health care budgets -- estimates are from $69 billion to $117 billion per year -- and reduces productivity in schools and the workplace. A recent UPenn study found that obese elementary schoolchildren miss more school than normal weight children and that obese adults miss more work and are less likely to go to college. The study found that obesity is a better predictor of absenteeism than any other factor, including socioeconomic status.
While we can't legislate healthy lifestyles, states can ensure children have access to healthy foods and drinks in schools, families have access to nutritional information at restaurants and easy access to outdoor recreation, and that community development be pedestrian friendly. For instance, according to The Trust for America's Health and its report, 17 states set nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts, and snacks that are stricter than federal requirements. 22 states have strict nutritional standards for foods sold in vending machines in schools and school stores. 26 states restrict students' access to traditional vending machine products, in some cases removing them from school grounds.
Mississippi, which has the highest obesity rate in the country at just over 30%, is also trying to address its obesity epidemic through the schools. A new law requires at least 150 minutes of physical activity instruction and 45 minutes of health education each week for kindergarten through 8th grade. The state has imposed new restrictions on soft drinks and snacks and next year, elementary and middle schools will stock only water, juice and milk. The State Dept of Ed is requiring school vending machines to sell snacks approved for their nutritional content, including yogurt, sliced fruit, and granola bars. Illinois, which finds itself ranked 25th with an obesity rate of 24.4%, has taken similar steps and is one of two states, along with California, that screens students for their risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Obesity has far-reaching implications for America and states are stepping up to encourage healthier habits and ensure Americans have the tools they need to make healthy choices.