REPORT: Health Care Bill Only A Start In Fighting Obesity Epidemic

ObesityReportToday, my colleagues here at the Center for American Progress released a new report examining how the health care bill addresses the child obesity epidemic that’s been largely ignored in the reform debate. President Obama has called childhood obesity “one of the most urgent health issues that we face in this country,” however, and has created a Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity charged with developing and submitting to the president an inter agency plan that “details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan.” First Lady Michelle Obama has also launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide campaign, to help eliminate “the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.”

The new health care law does several things to advance this cause:

Improved nutrition labeling in fast food restaurants, which will list calories and provide information on other nutrients

– The Childhood Obesity Demonstration Project, which gives grants to community based obesity intervention programs

– Community Transformation Grants, which gives grants to community-based efforts to prevent chronic diseases

Prevention and public health programs that invest in broader, population-level obesity intervention efforts

Primary care and coordination efforts that emphasize prevention, a team-based approach and paying for improved health

-Community-based care that targets communities that are disproportionately obese and overweight.

– Maternal and child health that promote breastfeeding and early-childhood nutrition.

The report notes that none of this alone can significantly lower obesity rates. For that, policy makers must look beyond health care into the quality of food in school cafeterias (they’ll have to do much better than Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-AR) recent proposal), the physical education programs, America’s agricultural subsidies, and the food options in lower-income neighborhoods. As the analysis points out, “the inflation-adjusted price of fruits and vegetables rose 17 percent between 1997 and 2003, while the price of a McDonald’s quarter-pounder and a Coca-Cola fell by 5.44 percent and 34.89 percent, respectively.” Consequently, American adults and children are now consuming, “on average, one-third of their calories from eating out.” In other words, the health bill is a start, but the government will need to take on some powerful food interests and tax some popular foods if it hopes to get health care spending under control and improve the quality of health and life of future generations. How realistic that is, is another matter.

Look for the Task Force to release their obesity recommendations tomorrow, but in the meantime you can read CAP’s report here, check out Marc Ambinder’s reporting on the issue and policy suggestions here or read Health Affairs’ very insightful obesity issue here.