Obesity gaining government & corporate attention

The role of physical activity to increase health, slim down kids, and lower healthcare costs hasn't bypassed the government and the corporate world in the last few weeks -- from congressional legislative introductions called "obesity prevention" to an "institute" of large U.S. employers banding together to fight fat and its associated costs.
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The role of physical activity to increase health, slim down kids, and lower health-care costs hasn't bypassed the government and the corporate world in the last few weeks.

From congressional legislative introductions called "obesity prevention" to an "institute" of large U.S. employers banding together to fight fat and its associated costs, voices are being raised.

"Obesity has a devastating impact on the health of employees and, by extension, on their employers," said Vince Kerr, a physician and director of health-care management at Ford Motor Company, one of the founding members of the "Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity," a coalition of 175 employers who will work to fight what is now called an epidemic.

"Organizations lose more than $12 billion per year," Kerr said as a part of the institute's founding last week, "due to higher health-care utilization rates, lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, elevated health and disability insurance premiums and other consequences associated with obesity and weight-related conditions. Addressing this growing epidemic has never been more critical." 

SNEWS takes a quick look at several highlights of the last few weeks for you:

Corporate coalition to fight obesity

The Washington Business Group on Health launched a coalition called "The Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity" to help corporate America reduce the impact of obesity and weight-related conditions in the workplace. The institute, which includes some of the world's leading corporations and federal health agencies, will explore the epidemic of obesity, propose solutions and strategies, and hopes to serve as a catalyst for change.

The coalition is designed for the corporate audience and its needs, and will work to provide reliable data to employers on costs and effects of obesity. It will also try to identify strategies to reduce obesity among its employees and try to provide one message.

The institute released its first product, an "Employer Toolkit" report on weight management that offers ways to support employees' desires to have healthier lifestyles. Additional projects and initiatives planned for the next two years include: a national weight awareness initiative, issue briefs, an online resource center and a corporate summit that will bring large employers together to discuss obesity-related challenges and share effective solutions and strategies. 

Corporate founding board members include representatives from Fidelity Investments, Ford Motor Company, General Mills Inc., Honeywell, IBM, Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo, Inc., Quebecor World, Inc., Saks Inc. and Starwood Hotels. Other founding board members include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health and Services Administration's Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Association of Health Plans, Aetna, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals Group, and Whole Health Management Inc.

For more, go to www.wbgh.org.

Obesity Prevention Act

Introduced in Congress in late May by Delaware's Republican representative Mike Castle, the bill would encourage community- and school-based activities to help reduce weight gain among children and would create a coordinated federal nutrition and fitness program through a new commission on obesity treatment and prevention.

"It's a good first step," Jonathan Dean, Castle's spokesman, told SNEWS.

Walking is highly touted in the introduction as a great way to start, but it continues to say that something is better than nothing, with intensity coming slowly.

For more, go to www.house.gov and look up Mike Castle.

Senate bill aims to reduce obesity

In early June, three senators -- two Democrats and one Republican from the east and southeast -- introduced legislation that suggests a laundry list of to-do's, all aimed at reducing obesity, particularly among children and adolescents.

The IMPACT Act -- Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act -- is an update on a bill originally introduced in 2002's 107th Congress. It was re-introduced by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Reps. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Kay Granger, R-Texas, introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

"This bill will provide vital information necessary for the American public to make informed choices to live healthier and enjoy a higher quality life," said Frist. "With increasing rates of obesity among both juvenile and adult populations, it's critical that we act to raise awareness of healthy behavior and the risks of obesity."

The legislation would, for example, provide training grants for professionals, authorize $60 million to create a demonstration program, and authorize studies and input by government agencies, among other things.

Go to www.senate.gov and look up Bill Frist or use the function to track bills.

CDC director calls obesity fastest-growing health threat

In a talk in San Francisco earlier this month, Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that although tobacco is the largest cause of death in the United States, obesity and a general lack of physical fitness is rapidly catching up and needs to become a priority for the country's health-care system.

"We just recalculated the actual causes of death in the U.S. and we did see that obesity moved up very close to tobacco, and is almost the number one health threat," she said in her address to the Commonwealth Club.

Gerberding suggested health officials take a community-based approach to the problem, by, for example, offering people more residential roads on which to walk. She also said people should not underestimate the large improvements made by small lifestyle changes.

Eliminating just 100 calories per day, or burning that much more through exercise, will prevent additional weight gain for most people, she said, and can be achieved with small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

For more from the CDC, go to www.cdc.gov.

Inactive kids become inactive adults

Proving once again what we already know intuitively, a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine conference in late May said that sedentary youth become inactive adults and can predict the risk of obesity and associated diseases.

One set of data presented examined changes in activity in young children during middle childhood (roughly kindergarten through third grade), deemed an important transition period for youth. Researchers studied a large group using accelerometers and surveys to quantify activity, and also measured the level of fatness of the children involved in the study. Results suggest those engaged in vigorous activity are more likely to stay lean, while TV viewing was the behavior most likely to predict weight gain during middle childhood. These results show children who watch the most TV were more than 2.4 times more likely than peers to gain high levels of fat in middle childhood.

"There is enough evidence at this point to suggest that physical activity promotion for children matters a great deal in that it impacts children's immediate health," said Kathleen Janz, one of the session's presenters. "This information may also help establish the stability of physical activity as a behavior to ensure active adults."

SNEWS View: Need we say more? The legislative voices are growing louder and it's time for the fitness industry to take a strong and united stance -- and those in other recreational industries like outdoor also. To see a group of corporations as those in the first item come together says something about the growing severity of the problem.

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