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Poll supports action to fight child obesity

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Americans want restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus, but they don't want to pay a special tax on junk food, says a poll of 1,002 adults released Wednesday at a meeting on obesity at Harvard School of Public Health.

They also worry about the increasing number of overweight kids and want something done about it. About 59% say vending machines in schools should be prohibited from selling unhealthy foods, and 58% believe there should be limits on TV ads aimed at kids about unhealthy foods and drinks.

''On childhood obesity, there's a lot support for action,'' says David Blumenthal, professor of medicine and health policy at Harvard Medical School. ''People recognize that children need help to make the right choices.''

The poll results come as the nation wrestles with an epidemic of obesity. Government figures show that 20% to 30% of U.S. children are overweight or at risk of becoming so, and almost 65% of adults are either overweight or obese. Excess weight is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.

The poll was commissioned by the Harvard Forums on Health, a series of programs exploring critical healthcare issues. Among the findings:

* 62% of Americans support requiring restaurants to list nutrition information including calories on menus.

* 59% oppose a special tax on junk food.

* 48% believe obesity is a private issue that people need to deal with on their own, while 47% say it is a public health issue that society needs to help solve.

* 76% would support measures such as serving more healthful schools lunches, offering more physical education classes and educating parents about healthy eating and exercise, even if it meant higher taxes. And 42% would pay $100 more a year in taxes to support these kinds of efforts.

The poll's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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