He believes obesity is “the single biggest public health issue in the country,” and the statistics agree with him. The government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that over one-third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children are obese. That is almost tripled from 1980. Because of the adverse health impacts (e.g., stroke, some cancers, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes) medical costs directly associated with obesity were approximately $147 billion in 2008. On a financial level, no other health condition has the reached deeper into our society’s pockets than obesity.
These numbers show that the prevalence of obesity has reached epidemic status in America. Unfortunately, obesity is impacting our children’s health and future, not just our own. This is the first time in two centuries that the current generation will not outlive its parent’s generation. Life expectancies are decreasing due to obesity. A child with obesity can expect to have breathing problems, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. Fortunately, obesity is a preventable health condition; unfortunately, preventing childhood obesity presents formidable challenges. Instead, the focus is on “treating” the effects of obesity, such as diabetes, as opposed to solving the initial cause. Simply stated, obesity is the number one health problem in America, and it will not disappear without action. Deciding on that action is mandatory to leaving a healthier generation behind.
All eyes are on the decision New York City comes to. It will set the course on how other large cities and states will handle the same dilemma. We should take notice that New York was the first major city to ban artificial trans-fat in restaurant cooking. Is NYC pioneering the soda ban, or is it overstepping the health boundaries?
As adults — parents, teachers, business owners, political leaders — we are collectively, unmistakably failing our children. With millions of obese children in America, the solutions rest with all of us: parents changing attitudes, teachers educating about the deadly epidemic, community and business leaders raising awareness and putting resources forward and, yes, governments implementing paternalistic policies to try to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity. The government requires us to put seat belts on our kids. The risk to our kids from the slow killer of childhood obesity is much, much greater. The news in New York prompts us to think about how we can do more to prevent childhood obesity in our own state. Some have noted that taxing these ridiculously unhealthy excess portions of sugary drinks would at least shift some of the financial burden on to the individual and might reduce consumption. Whether we favor grass-roots approaches or top-down government interventions, we can all agree that our children deserve better from us. Allowing the current situation of escalating childhood obesity, diabetes and shortened life expectancy is just not an acceptable option.
Dr. Kent Sasse is a nationally recognized bariatric surgeon and author. He founded iMetabolic and the Obesity Prevention Foundation to provide northern Nevada with the medical information and resources they need. He completed his medical education at University of California, San Francisco and earned two master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.