Health Report from the Surgeon General:
For the second time in five years the Surgeon General has identified obesity and overweight as prime contributors to poor health.
The report, entitled "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity," outlined strategies that communities can use in helping to address the problems. Those options included requiring physical education at all school grades, providing more healthy food options on school campuses, and providing safe and accessible recreational facilities for residents of all ages.
"Overweight and obesity may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking," Satcher said. "People tend to think of overweight and obesity as strictly a personal matter, but there is much that communities can and should do to address these problems." Approximately 300,000 U.S. deaths each year are associated with obesity and overweight (compared to more than 400,000 deaths a year associated with cigarette smoking). The total direct and indirect costs attributed to overweight and obesity amounted to $117 billion in the year 2000.
"Overweight and obesity are among the most pressing new health challenges we face today," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "Our modern environment has allowed these conditions to increase at alarming rates and become a growing health problem for our nation. By confronting these conditions, we have tremendous opportunities to prevent the unnecessary disease and disability they portend for our future."
Some of the statistics released by HHS include the following: In 1999, an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults were overweight, along with 13 percent of children and adolescents. Obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, while overweight among adolescents has tripled. Only 3 percent of all Americans meet at least four of the five federal Food Guide Pyramid recommendations for the intake of grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats. And less than one-third of Americans meet the federal recommendations to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week, while 40 percent of adults engage in no leisure-time physical activity at all.
In preparation of the report, Satcher convened a listening session in December 2000 and held a public comment period to gather ideas from clinicians, researchers, consumers and advocates. These sessions generated a number of community-based strategies that were subsequently reviewed for their proven scientific effectiveness. The strategies were organized under the categories of communication, action, research and evaluation (CARE).
Those strategies include: Ensure daily, quality physical education for all school grades. Currently, only one state in the country, Illinois, requires physical education for grades K-12, while only about one in four teenagers nationwide take part in some form of physical education. Ensure that more food options that are low in fat and calories, as well as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products, are available on school campuses and at school events. A modest step toward achieving this would be to enforce existing U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations that prohibit serving foods of minimal nutritional value during mealtimes in school food service areas, including in vending machines. Make community facilities available for physical activity for all people, including on the weekends. Create more opportunities for physical activity at work sites. Change the perception of obesity so that health becomes the chief concern, not personal appearance. Increase research on the behavioral and biological causes of overweight and obesity. Direct research toward prevention and treatment, and toward ethnic/racial health disparities. Educate health care providers and health profession students on the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity across the lifespan.
The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity is available at www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity .