Nike boss, sports/health leaders testify at Senate hearing on childhood obesity - SNEWS

Nike boss, sports/health leaders testify at Senate hearing on childhood obesity

A Senate committee looking at the Childhood Obesity Reduction Act as a way to curtail the escalating number of overweight kids in America listened to testimony from Gary DeStefano, president of USA operations for Nike, and Lynn Swann, chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, at an Oct. 5 hearing.
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A Senate committee looking at the Childhood Obesity Reduction Act as a way to curtail the escalating number of overweight kids in America listened to testimony from Gary DeStefano, president of USA operations for Nike, and Lynn Swann, chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, at an Oct. 5 hearing.

"Nike is fully supportive of (the Childhood Obesity Act), and we believe this important legislation is a critical component in tackling this issue," DeStefano told the committee. "The severity of this epidemic and its impact on our children's future requires new thinking and new approaches. The Childhood Obesity Reduction Act presents a unique opportunity for schools and communities to develop and implement real solutions to promote increased physical activity, reduce and prevent childhood unhealthy weight, and improve nutritional choices in schools."

The bill was introduced June 21, 2004, by Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. It would promote school and community-based healthy activities to encourage school-aged children to become more active and choose nutritious foods. It would also provide for $2.2 million in fiscal year 2005 to create a Congressional Council to Combat Childhood Obesity. The council would give grants to schools that want to implement anti-obesity programs. The legislation would also provide for the launch of a website parents and kids could use to learn about successful exercise and nutrition programs in schools across the United States.

In addition to DeStefano and Swann, also testifying were: Wyden; Dixie E. Snider Jr., chief officer for science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ross Brownson, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Saint Louis University School of Public Health; and William Potts-Datema, chair of Action for Healthy Kids and director of Partnerships for Children's Health at Harvard School of Public Health.  

"Across this country, on couches in front of televisions and video game consoles, a silent killer called obesity is stalking America's youngsters in epidemic numbers," Wyden said at the hearing. "Obesity among children is up. But the dollars being spent now on their obesity-related diseases in childhood are just a drop in the bucket compared to what we're going to have to spend. Many obesity-related diseases are chronic and lifelong."

Swann in his testimony emphasized the importance of looking at obesity as a disease and educating people about it:

"At the beginning of the 21st century, our nation faces a deadly health crisis with the potential to do great damage from a cause that until recently has not been a major threat," he said at the hearing. "We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic caused by poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. We are eating too much and moving too little. Only about one-half of U.S. young people (ages 12-21 years) regularly participate in vigorous physical activity. According to a study done by the National Association of Sports and Physical Education (NASPE), children should engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time except when sleeping. On average, children in the U.S. watch 18 hours of TV a week."

Early intervention, according to Frist, is essential in combating obesity among youth: "Make no mistake about it, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions," said Frist, who chaired the hearing. "The number of obese children between the ages of 6 and 11 has tripled over the past three decades…These numbers are significant because we know that overweight and obese children have a lower quality of life than their healthy peers…[Sen. Wyden and I] believe that early intervention, with community and school support, is key to preventing lifelong obesity and obesity-related illnesses."

In order for the bill to pass, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions must agree upon its language or make amendments, which could take several months. At that time, the Senate would be expected to vote on it.  

SNEWS® View: It would be nice to see executives from leading manufacturers from not only the fitness industry as well as those from outdoor, take part in such hearings. That way the government will also realize that even "small" companies, rather than giants like Nike, view this matter as vital to our country's health and future. Either way, this is a step by the Senate we look forward to watching as it develops.

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