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Hardly a week goes by without a fresh report concerning one of America's most prevalent -- and preventable -- health problems: obesity.
The latest, released Friday, has an attention-getting title: the Kentucky Obesity Epidemic 2004. It says that Kentuckians are dying early and suffering an array of health problems, since excess weight is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and several types of cancer.
Last year, $1.1 billion was spent on medical costs directly related to obesity in Kentucky.
Kentucky's report found that 70 percent of men and 55 percent of women are overweight, with 24 percent of those reaching obese levels. It also found that 15 percent of high school students and 17 percent of middle school students are overweight.
"Basically, obesity is slowly killing us," said Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who happens to be a physician.
This isn't an issue just for Kentucky, of course.
The American Obesity Association estimates that 127 million adults in the United States are overweight, with 60 million of them obese.
The Ohio Department of Health says the percentage of obese Ohioans doubled from 10 percent in 1985 to 20 percent in 2001.
In Hamilton County, 35.9 percent of adults are considered overweight, with 17.4 percent of them obese.
You can quibble with the definition of "overweight" and "obese" in some of the studies; some of the formulas are a bit severe.
That doesn't mitigate the obvious point -- we all need to eat less and exercise more. But we must also do more:
Parents and schools and others who supervise children must help them develop healthy eating habits and regular patterns of physical activity.
Communities must provide fun and affordable opportunities for kids and adults to get some exercise.
We need to fund research -- such as that now under way at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center -- that will enable us to better understand the causes of obesity and enhance the medical arsenal to combat it.
It's true that what to eat and whether to exercise are at their core a matter of personal responsibility. But there is much government and other institutions can do to promote healthier lifestyles.
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