Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingConfronting obesity, science, society and health -- that's the topic of a conference recently held at UC Berkeley.
The topics were varied -- economic policies that encourage overeating, building designs that keep us sedentary. They talked a lot about how we got here and how things have to change.
No longer considered merely a consequence of personal choice, obesity now ranks as a major public health concern. Experts liken this to the shift in attitudes about smoking over the past thirty years.
Speaking to a packed auditorium, Doctor Pat Crawford, co-director of UC Berkeley's center for weight and health says it's a societal problem that cries out for public policy change.
Dr. Pat Crawford, Ph.D., UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health: “The public is well aware that there’s a problem out there. So I think that we’re ready for the next level, which is how we’re going to make those changes, just like the changes that were made with tobacco.”
The statistics are staggering; thirty percent of adults are obese. As a nation we're spending $117-billion a year on medical care for obesity, and that's got the attention of the CDC.
William Dietz, M.D., Center for Disease Control: "People make choices based on what's around them and we have not yet made healthful choices easy choices. It's much easier to take the escalator than the stairs. It's much easier to consume fast food that it is to consume fruits and vegetables."
Doctor Kelly Brownell is a psychologist who wrote the book Food Fight. He says government subsidies to agriculture are a big player here.
Dr. Kelly Brownell: “A much greater percentage of the budget of the US Department of Agriculture goes toward pushing dairy products and meant than it does pushing fruits and vegetables.”
What's more, he says inexpensive sweeteners are just increasing the nation's sweet tooth.
Dr. Kelly Brownell: "Sugar and high fructose corn syrup show up in foods like ketchup and mayonnaise and beef stew and soup and places you really wouldn't expect them."
The take home message from the conference – obesity is a complex problem that will take an equally complex solution. Besides treatment, we have to emphasize prevention, and focus on our kids.
William Dietz: "We can't limit our approaches to medical approaches. We have to change the meals that we serve to children in schools. We have to make it possible for children to walk to school, and we have to restore physical education in the schools."
Dr. Kelly Brownell: "If the industry, for example, could hire Shaquille O'Neal rather than pushing hamburgers for Burger King, to push vegetables -- and Beyonce Knowles instead of encouraging kids to drink Pepsi could encourage them to drink healthier beverages, then we would be way ahead of the game."
Television is also playing a role. The average American child sees ten thousand food advertisements a year just on TV, and nearly all of them are for foods like candy, soft drinks, fast food, and sugary cereals.