San Francisco Chronicle Examines Childhood Obesity Issue
The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday examined problems related to the increased number of overweight children in California. More than three million California children are overweight or at risk for obesity -- a 300% increase since the late 1970s -- and childhood obesity experts remain "at a loss in attacking" the "intractable" problem, the Chronicle reports. "The frustration is we're seeing the problem in larger and larger numbers, and it's getting away from us with no clear solutions," Dr. Catherine Egli, a diabetes specialist, said. Researchers estimate that 60% to 80% of overweight children will become overweight adults, and nationwide hospital costs associated with childhood obesity total about $127 million per year. According to the Chronicle, the problem "continues to gain interest" from state lawmakers. "Although the challenges are great in this budget environment, of course childhood obesity will continue to be a high priority for me, and for the Senate Health Committee," Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) said. Ortiz added that the committee plans to conduct hearings on the effect of advertisements on children's diets; other lawmakers will introduce health and nutrition bills. However, the state faces an estimated $34.8 billion budget deficit, and legislation to address childhood obesity will "have to be on the lean side financially," the Chronicle reports. "We're fighting to save basic medical care and basic education needs. It's going to be a very tough sell to pay for new programs. It has to be one of those things where everybody has to band together," Russ Lopez, a spokesperson for Gov. Gray Davis (D), said. In January, about 1,000 health care professionals, educators, physicians and social service experts worldwide will meet at a conference in San Diego to address the problem (Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/29/02).
Los Angeles has the state's "greatest share" of overweight and unfit children, and parents "need to get their kids to eat less and move more -- and to set an example by doing so themselves," a Los Angeles Times editorial states. However, the editorial also attributes the problem to "larger changes that require more than individual willpower to fix." For example, many children do not play outside because their neighborhoods are not safe, and "the state cut physical education requirements in schools two decades ago -- about the time childhood weight problems started rising," the editorial states. Many schools have "skimped" on physical education and "boosted class sizes to as high as 80 students," the editorial states. In addition, many schools "sought new money in vending machine sales," and some "high school cafeterias came to resemble the local mall's fast-food court," the editorial states. The Times adds that the costs of overweight children "include steep medical bills, missed days of work and lives dictated by pills and insulin shots. ... Imagine how that toll will rise now that high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes are showing up at age 10 or 15, not just at 40 or 50." The editorial concludes, "To prevent this public health calamity, society will need to develop a dieter's long-term resolve" (Los Angeles Times, 12/25/02).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.