For Immediate Release

APHA Supports National Plan to Reverse Rise in Obesity Among Children and Youth

Washington, D.C., September 30, 2004 - The American Public Health Association today announced its support of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ plan to reverse the nation’s rapid growth of obese children and youth by promoting new nutritional guidelines and encouraging physical activity through schools, families, industry and the government.

Over the past three decades, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled for preschool children ages 2 to 5 years and adolescents ages 12 to 19 years, according to the Institute of Medicine’s report, “Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance,” released today. About 9 million children over 6 years of age are now considered obese. Specific subgroups of children, including African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians, are disproportionately affected.

“Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, threatening the health of our children whose well-being is being undermined by unhealthy diets and lack of exercise,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “As a result, children are at high risk for developing health problems, such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, that are already costing our nation billions of dollars in health care expenses. We cannot afford not to address this escalating issue.”

Among the report’s recommendations are a call for schools to implement nutritional standards for all foods and beverages served on school grounds, including those from vending machines, and for all students to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.

The report also recommends that the food, beverage and entertainment industries voluntarily develop and implement guidelines for advertising and marketing directed at children and youth. Restaurants should continue to expand their offerings of nutritious foods and beverages, and should provide calorie content and other nutrition information. Parents should also stock their homes with fruits and vegetables to encourage their children to choose them as snacks, the report says.

The report also advocates for healthy community design that encourages bicycling and walking and improves access to playgrounds that provide children and youth with a safe environment for outdoor activities.

Overweight children are likely to become overweight adults who are vulnerable to a host of health problems, studies show. For children born in the United States in 2000, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives is estimated at 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls, if obesity rates level off. The nation’s health care costs related to obesity in adults have been estimated to range from about $98 billion to $129 billion after inflation adjustments.

“Our children’s lives are at stake, not only their physical health but their emotional stability as well,” Benjamin said. “Reversing these alarming health trends will require broad commitment on a number of fronts. This report lays out a framework for ensuring healthier lives for our children.”

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