Senate Committee Examines Issue of Childhood Obesity
Public health experts on Tuesday testified at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing that the number of obese U.S. children between ages six and 11 has tripled over the past three decades, CQ HealthBeat reports. In addition, experts said that more than 30% of children are overweight and that 10% are clinically obese. They also said that because of the large number of overweight children, they no longer consider type 2 diabetes a disease that primarily affects adults.
Lynn Swann, a former NFL player and chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, said that health problems related to obesity cost taxpayers $117 billion annually, in addition to $132 billion for type 2 diabetes. He added that the council has launched several public-private partnerships with companies that manufacture cereal, soda and fast food to help increase public awareness and reduce childhood obesity.
However, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) raised concerns about whether partnerships with such companies send the "wrong message" to children. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) added that a recent report released by the Institute of Medicine should prompt Congress to pass legislation to address childhood obesity. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, "We act aggressively today or play catch-up ball for years."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Wyden have sponsored a bill (S 2551) that would establish a Web site to educate individuals who work with children about physical education programs and provide information on how to encourage healthy dietary habits in children.
In addition, Harkin has sponsored legislation (S 2558) that would provide the Federal Trade Commission with more authority to regulate advertisements that target children. He said that food manufacturers spend about $12 billion annually on ads for foods with high sugar content.
"I'm willing to give the industry one last chance to reign in its aggressive marketing to kids. If the industry fails in this effort, regulation will not be far behind," Harkin said (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 10/5).