First lady Michelle Obama has gotten little appreciation for her campaign to get children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. She has publicized the effort with a White House garden, where schoolchildren are invited to come pick their own, and she endorsed farmers markets, including a weekly venue nearby. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has endured a storm of ridicule for his efforts to limit the sales of oversized and overly sugared drinks.
In fact, they should be lauded for attempting to address a developing slow-motion health crisis that will add hundreds of millions to the nation's health care bill.
In a health report card, brutally titled "F as in Fat," the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health predict that half of all American adults will be obese by 2030. That prediction is only slightly more dire than the American Journal of Preventive Medicine's projection that 42 percent of all adults will be obese by then. The "F as in Fat" report predicts obesity-related illness will add $48 billion a year in health care costs over the next 20 years, rising at a time when the government will be hard-pressed to maintain Medicare.
Currently, nearly 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These figures have more than doubled for adults and tripled among children since 1980. It is not hyperbole to call obesity an epidemic that ultimately manifests itself in increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The "F as in Fat" report forecasts that, over the next two decades, obesity could contribute to 7.9 million new cases of diabetes, 5 million new cases of chronic heart disease and stroke and more than 400,000 cases of cancer.
The incidence of obesity is closely tied to income and education levels, and the distribution varies widely by state. But the report estimates that in 2030, every state will have an obesity rate of at least 44 percent, with 13 states having rates that could exceed 60 percent. Mississippi has the nation's highest rate, at 34.9 percent; by 2030, it's predicted to grow to 66.7 percent, or two out of every three adults.
Colorado has the least problem, with 20.7 percent of its residents considered obese, but even there the rate is expected to rise to 44.8 percent.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index above 30; a BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered optimal. To calculate, multiply weight in pounds by 703, divide by height in inches, and divide again by height in inches. Do the math or get calculations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website at http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/bmi-m.htm.
Now, eat your vegetables.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.