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Climbing Obesity Rates Concern Researchers

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As economic experts scramble to assess the damage from the recent downturn in the economy, a new report claims our financial woes are at least partially responsible for a disturbing trend: rising obesity rates. Obesity is typically viewed as a sign of prosperity; the more choices a person is exposed to, the more likely he or she will consume them, if money is no object. However, some researchers believe that economic lack can lead to unhealthy eating habits, especially among children.

A collaborative report between the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has documented the troubling trend. Gathering evidence from the Center for Disease Control from 2004-2006, researchers discovered that overall obesity rates have risen in ½ of the nation’s states. Even more troubling is the fact that of the 26,000 children studied, only 37% of them fell within the “normal” weight range for age, weight and height.

The TFAH report emphasizes that widespread job loss not only leads to depression and anxiety, it also removes a family’s access to wellness programs that encourage healthy living. It may be up to the nation’s communities to step in and reverse the trend. Dr. Frank Chaloupka of the University of Illinois stated, "We have in our schools and communities a perfect storm that will continue to feed the childhood obesity epidemic until we adopt policies that improve the health of our communities and our kids."

  Some states have already set in motion several programs to try and curb the trend:

· Texas has mandated specific nutritional standards throughout the school system and has reduced children’s access to unhealthy snacks during the school day. They are requiring more stringent physical education requirements as well (The Daily Texan).

· In the community of Somerville, Mass., researchers from Tufts University led an intervention of sorts; the amount of fruit served at lunchtime was doubled and students were encouraged to walk to school. Physical activity during after school programs was also increased (New York Times).

· Arkansas eliminated vending machines from their schools and is sending home annual health and wellness reports to parents (New York Times).

The report also emphasizes that treating the chronic diseases that result from life long obesity is going to be the bane of any kind of healthcare reform. Researchers predict a sharp increase in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even limb amputation for years to come.

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