A societal concern I am thinking of pursuing for my white paper is nutrition and the obesity epidemic. Today, two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one in three children struggle because they are overweight or have obesity. The effects of the nation’s obesity epidemic are immense: taxpayers, businesses, communities and individuals spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year due to obesity, including an estimated $168 billion in medical costs. Obesity is the reason that the current generation of youth is predicted to live a shorter life than their parents.
Much can be done to reverse the epidemic, yet important opportunities to tackle obesity at the national policy level — including changes that enable more Americans to eat healthy and be active, as well as those that provide appropriate medical treatment for patients — have gone largely unmet. The most proactive organization appears to be the Campaign to End Obesity (CEO). The campaign works to bridge the disconnect between the government and obesity, educating the former of the extremity of future impact. By bringing together leaders from across industry, academia and public health with policy-makers and their advisors, the Campaign provides the information and guidance that decision-makers need to make policy changes that will reverse one of the nation’s most prevalent diseases. Various other communities and organizations have followed suit, taking preventative measures as well as proactive steps to reversing this childhood trend. These communities and organizations range from the federal to state to local township level yet all are focusing on the greater issue at hand.
Current thinking regarding childhood obesity, starting at the national level, includes Obama’s school lunch rules implemented this fall. The rules set calorie limits on school lunches and promote nutritious foods as part of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. The Obama administration backed the requirements as part of its fight against childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama is taking steps of her own. She unveiled her “Childhood Obesity Action Plan” in 2010. The plan, also known as “Lets Move!” acted as the blueprint for ending the problem within a generation calls for more infant breast-feeding, building more sidewalks, curbing time with digital media and getting deep fryers out of schools. Combining comprehensive strategies with common sense, Let’s Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping children become more physically active. Both initiatives have been criticized as evidence of a “nanny-state” approach to reducing U.S. obesity. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced a bill to repeal them in September. Others who criticize these national laws have consistent views that those of King, that these issues should be dealt with at the local level. I agree, this issue can be made national but the only way this epidemic will be resolved is at the community level, the family unit level.
Obesity, as you may have assumed, carries into adult life of those children that do not receive the proper education or diet. Below are facts supplied by the CEO regarding obesity in the workplace:
- Full-time workers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers — resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually, according to a 2011 Gallup Poll.
- Medical expenses for obese employees are 42 percent higher than for a person with a healthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Policies within the workplace have been implemented in effort to contribute to reducing obesity in the workplace. One popular policy throughout workplace environments include active office designs. “Active design” — the architectural principle of creating spaces that encourage healthy lifestyles — is gaining popularity as more cities and companies join the fight and embrace healthy initiatives and “green” measures. Other offices have placed gyms within the office building to reinforce more active lifestyles. Critics believe that companies taking action towards this cause is inappropriate because it is a personal struggle to be dealt with outside of the workplace, similar to any other personal issue. However, obesity has become an unspoken concern for employers due to rising health costs and insurance coverage consequential to adult obesity.
These resources have established that the societal concern of obesity and health reform in the United States is one that needs to be dealt with more effectively. It appears the issue has become a more urgent national concern with both Obama’s policy implementation and Michelle Obama’s initiatives however, the problem must be reinforced in the home. Once families and small communities across the country begin to implement nutritional programs, changes will not be seen. My own school district employs an organic organization to stock the cafeterias, but these companies are costly. The nation needs to work on an affordable and effective compromise.