Sebelius Addressing Obesity At Weight Of The Nation Conference

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Jul 28 2009 - 7:45am

This morning, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will address the Weight of the Nation Conference. The conference is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's inaugural conference on obesity prevention and control. Obesity has become a major national problem, as the cost of obesity is higher than the cost of health care. Sebelius's remarks as prepared for delivery are included below.

Thank you for that introduction.

I want to thank everyone who made today possible, especially Dr. Frieden who was such a trailblazer as New York City Public Health Commissioner and who has done such a great job in his first few months as the head of CDC.

I'd also like to recognize Dr. Howard Koh, our new Assistant Secretary for Health, who will be heading the HHS Office of Public Health and Science.

With their leadership and the incredible talent we have from top-to-bottom at the CDC and throughout the Department, we're in excellent position to move forward with our wellness and prevention policies.

I'd also like to acknowledge President Clinton who's made such an important difference on these issues and others through his Foundation. And who served his country so well both as President and as Governor of Arkansas (which is only about 50 miles away from being the best state in the country).

Finally, to the CDC and all the other organizations who worked so hard to put on this event and draw attention to this important issue - thank you for your efforts. This is the first Weight of the Nation conference, but I am sure it won't be the last.

Yesterday, we heard some bad news and some good news.

The bad news was that over two thirds of American adults - and almost one out of every five American children - are obese or overweight.

We heard about how obesity increases your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and stroke. About how obesity is the single biggest predictor of diabetes.

And we heard from a new report that says obesity costs our health system as much as $147 billion a year, a number that has almost doubled since the last time the CDC calculated it in 1998.

To put that figure in perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates that all cancers combined cost our health care system $93 billion a year. So ending obesity would save our health care system fifty percent more dollars than curing cancer.

That's the bad news. But here's the good news. No, ending obesity won't be easy. But the CDC also released a second report yesterday.

That report asked, what can we do about the growing costs of obesity? And it came back with a heartening answer: it turns out, there's a lot we can do.

Like the school district in Southern California that got almost half their kids to start eating at the salad bar by serving fresh, local produce instead of greens that looked like they had been under saran wrap for the last month.

Or the city in Northern California, which got twice as many girls to go to dance class as the neighboring community by providing buses to drive them there.

It won't be easy. But this report is a big step towards developing a national blueprint for how to get Americans to slim down while trimming a significant chunk of our health care costs at the same time.

And it's a major part of the broader commitment the Obama administration has made to transforming our health care system from a sickness system to a wellness system, a commitment that will make us not just a healthier, but also a wealthier country.

But before I tell you about some of the exciting plans the administration has in this area, I want to talk for a few moments about childhood obesity.

If you asked anyone in this room what the most important group of Americans to help was, they'd say children.

That's because we all love our children. But it's also because children have an advantage on the rest of us: they're going to be around a lot longer.

If you give a child a good education, she's going to be a productive worker and taxpayer for fifty years. There's the same payoff for investments in health.

If we can teach our children healthy habits when they're young, they can benefit from these habits for the rest of their lives.

But right now, they're learning the wrong habits. The share of children that are overweight has quadrupled in the last 40 years. Type 2 diabetes used to be called "adult-onset" diabetes. Now doctors don't use the term because so many kids are getting it.

Overweight adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: "Childhood weight problems can lead to complications such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, joint problems, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, asthma, depression and anxiety."

No wonder some scientists have said that this might be the first generation of Americans in 200 years to have shorter life spans than their parents.

If there was an epidemic of little kids getting cancer, it would be a national crisis. But because it's obesity and the damage doesn't come until later in life, we've been slow to act. I'm counting on people in this room to tell Americans that as our children's weight is growing, their lives are shrinking. We can't ignore this problem any longer.

Right now, you're might be saying to yourself: if we've been concerned about obesity for so many years and we haven't done much about it, why is anything going to change now?

The truth is that our country had the same problem trying to lose weight as Americans do. A poll I saw from Time Magazine a few years ago explains it pretty well.

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