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Obesity no laughing matter

Oregon editors say

The Legislature should welcome federal money to fight the problem

The Oregonian

Oregon has a higher percentage of overweight people than nearly every state in the West, a distinction that should make us eager to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics' new prescription for battling the rising childhood obesity rate.

In fact, Oregon's weight problem is so far out of control that pediatricians alone can't fight it. Nearly two-thirds of Oregonians are overweight, and one in five is severely overweight or obese. One in four Oregon teens is overweight. Oregonians need to aggressively attack this problem in their homes, school cafeterias and communities.

The academy recommends pediatricians evaluate the body mass index of all children, whether thin or overweight, every year so they can identify and help prevent obesity and all the disorders related to it. The body mass index is a height-to-weight ratio that can spotlight unhealthy weight gains.

Obesity has doubled over the past two decades among adults and tripled among teens. Obesity related health costs also have tripled. Oregon became the first state in the West with more than 20 percent of its residents obese.

— At these levels, obesity rivals tobacco as a health threat, doctors say. Oregon Health & Science University sees children with weight-related problems such as diabetes, liver disease, breathing disorders, hip and knee strain and high cholesterol, a precursor for heart problems. Fourteen years ago Dr. Bruce Boston, professor of pediatric endocrinology at OHSU, saw a child with obesity-related Type 2 diabetes once or twice every three years; now he sees a child with the disease once a month.

Children are putting on the pounds because they are exposed to more fast food and high-calorie diets and are less active than previous generations. Schools offer more fast food and less physical education than they did 20 years ago. Small changes in habits can cause big changes in weight. Doctors say a person who eats just 50 calories above what he or she burns each day will gain 50 pounds in 10 years.

Oregon must get more aggressive about fighting obesity. Political leaders at every level need to speak out for fitness as President John F. Kennedy did so successfully four decades ago. Some promising efforts are under way. OHSU has opened a new center to study obesity and related health problems and will host a town-hall meeting on the epidemic on the morning of Sept. 30 in the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Oregon won &

36;10 million in federal grants to prevent obesity by promoting better food and more activities in Oregon schools and communities. But Rep. Randy Miller, R-West Linn, and Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, co-chairmen of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, rejected the money. Despite a public outcry over the loss, Miller says he hasn't decided whether to even review the grant rejection.

We don't suggest through rejection of a grant that obesity isn't a serious problem, he says. This is more about finance than about policy. Then Miller should welcome &

36;10 million in federal money and the chance to curb rapidly rising health care costs related to obesity. He and Schrader need to act rationally and responsibly. They need to approve the grants and support efforts to dissuade Oregonians from hurting themselves with food.