Enzi Hearing Statement - Childhood Obesity: Beginning the Dialogue on Reversing the Epidemic

Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening today’s hearing on this important issue: childhood obesity. 

Our nation faces an epidemic of childhood obesity.  As a result of this epidemic, millions of children are going to develop heart disease, diabetes and a host of other serious medical conditions.  Costs for programs like Medicare and Medicaid will further increase beyond their already unsustainable levels.

Today, we will discuss the First Lady’s initiative to stop childhood obesity through a public campaign focused on nutrition, physical activity, healthy options in schools, and helping families making good life-style choices.  I applaud the First Lady’s efforts to raise obesity awareness, encourage children to adopt healthier behaviors and provide families the tools they need to make better choices. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past 30 years the prevalence of childhood obesity in children between the ages of 2 and 5 has increased from 5 percent to 12.4 percent, and the rate of childhood obesity doubled from 1980-2000.  Today 30 states have obesity rates of 30 percent or more and 1 in 5 children struggle with obesity.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of children who were overweight in their teenage years were also obese as adults in their late twenties. 

This obesity epidemic has a direct and immediate impact on national health care spending.  According to a recent article in Health Affairs, the medical bills of an obese individual are 42 percent more than someone who is not obese.  A 2004 study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Americans spent 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures on obesity related care, or a total of $78.5 billion. 

While the financial impacts of the obesity epidemic are daunting, the human cost is even greater.  People who are obese face a much higher risk of developing conditions like heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke. 

Studies show that obesity in children only leads to greater health, social and economic problems in the future.  We must stop obesity in our children to slow the epidemic for future generations. 

In Wyoming, we have the “Commit to Your Health Campaign” which hosts walks in the community with 3rd graders to bring awareness to childhood obesity.  They also conduct media campaigns that focus on physical fitness, healthy lifestyles and sound nutritional practice.  It is important to work with the children in our communities and to educate them about the importance of being physically active and aware of their food choices. 

Unfortunately, the federal government does not have a great track record in implementing programs that actually modify people’s behaviors.  I hope that we can learn from a variety of sources, including employers, educators and community leaders, about how to encourage incentive–based solutions that will promote greater personal responsibility and result in healthier lifestyles for American families.

I would also like to thank all of our witnesses for their dedication to combating this serious problem facing America’s children.

Thank you.

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