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US health experts urge Obama to take ‘urgent action’ on obesity

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 12-Jan-2009

A group of prominent American health professionals has issued a letter urging President-elect Barack Obama to take “bold and urgent action” to curb obesity or, they say, the current generation could be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

Organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the 49 health and medical organizations and 44 leading physicians and nutritionists expressed strong concern that US rates of obesity have approximately doubled in adults and tripled in children over the past 30 years.

The letter states: “What is lacking is not well-conceived ideas for policies and programs, but a national commitment to wage a comprehensive campaign to prevent and reverse overweight and obesity, a war that should begin in the womb and infancy, extend to schools, then include workplaces, doctors’ offices, and the general community.”

The group has called for a “coordinated effort” of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Transportation, as well as other government officials, saying that “the obesity epidemic is harming Americans’ health just as global warming is harming the planet.”

Obesity costs

The letter lists some of the conditions and diseases linked to obesity, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and hypertension.

“Together those maladies contribute each year to as many as several hundred thousand deaths and tens of billions of dollars in medical and other costs,” the letter said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that health care expenditure related to obesity costs the government, families and organizations $117bn each year. It says that nearly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.

CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said that the letter does not itemize approaches that the incoming administration could take to tackle the problem as they are “numerous” and “well-known”.

Jacobson added: “What has been missing, particularly by officials in the Bush Administration, is the commitment to actually tackle the problem.”

Signatories to the letter included the American Heart Association, American Public Health Association, Shape Up America! and The Obesity Society, as well as prominent individual health professionals, such as Carlos A. Camargo of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Kenneth H. Cooper of the Cooper Aerobics Center/Cooper Clinic in Dallas, and Marion Nestle of New York University.

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