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Op-Ed: Education Is Key In Battle Against Obesity Epidemic


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Let's face it; Americans have been leading unhealthy, sedentary lives for too long. Seventy-three percent of adults and 43 percent of children in this country are overweight, obese, or severely obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity accounted for $147 billion in U.S. medical expenses in 2008, pushing healthcare costs further out of control. It also affects the workplace and well-being.

Millions of Americans struggle with the effects of obesity every day. We cannot afford to let the obesity epidemic go unchecked. That's why I'm committed to making the healthy choice the easy choice, with the Healthy CHOICES Act. This is not a top-down approach, nor does it include any government mandates. This is about healthier choices in our schools, in our grocery stores and in our neighborhoods, providing the tools, education, and opportunities to help Americans make choices that meet the needs of their families.

I'm pleased the administration has also shed light on this important issue. With the help of the first lady and her agenda for battling childhood obesity, a bipartisan group of politicians, businesses and non-profits across this nation we can fight this epidemic and help Americans enjoy a higher quality of life.

This starts with recognizing signs of obesity in our children and working to treat and prevent unhealthy lifestyle choices at a young age. Establishing body mass index as a vital sign will help parents identify when their child is at, or approaching, an unhealthy weight. Expanding treatment and prevention programs helps doctors and families tackle unhealthy habits at all ages and helps kids and adults live longer, healthier lives.

Americans today are busier than ever, and it's sometimes quicker and easier to make the unhealthy choice. The Healthy CHOICES Act changes that. It is my priority to make sure Americans have access to healthy choices where they live, learn, work and play.

Increasing accessibility to healthy food will help families know what they are eating and will help them get the food they need to fuel their bodies. Updated nutritional guidelines will help kids find healthier foods at after-school and day care programs, more produce in urban grocery stores will provide accessibility in low-income neighborhoods, and nutrition label education will assist busy shoppers in making informed decisions. Studies show that people who eat local food often eat more healthy food. Grants for community gardens and local farmers markets will help provide an outlet for families to access fresh, affordable produce on a regular basis.

Increased opportunities for physical activity will also help families lead a more active lifestyle and help prevent and control illness and disease. Today, with too few safe and efficient bike and pedestrian paths and fewer places to play outside, many kids turn to video games, computers and TV. We must put thought and resources into building safe places for children to play, safe routes for them to travel to school, and more facilities for physical activity in our communities. We must also work to promote new wellness programs in workplaces across the country. We also know it's hard to develop a healthy mind without a healthy body, so as children face the real health and social tolls of obesity -- our K-12 programs must make physical education a staple of the school day.

We all know obesity is a concern in every community across our nation. But by working together with a concerted, strategic policy, we can take better care of ourselves, confront this epidemic, and realize a decline in our healthcare costs. This is something we must do, so that our children can live their lives to their greatest potential.

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