U.S. first lady leads charge against obesity

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:46pm EST

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - U.S. health officials have leveraged the star power of first lady Michelle Obama to roll out a new campaign against obesity, a preventable condition that drains billions of dollars from the economy.

Obama, who plans to take on childhood obesity as a cause, headlined the launch on Thursday of Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's blueprint for what can be done at home, school and work to reverse the epidemic.

In her first initiative since becoming "America's doctor," Benjamin issued a report on the consequences of obesity to start a national dialogue on the subject.

"The number of Americans, like me, who are struggling with their weight and health conditions related to their weight remains much too high," she said.

Benjamin's report lists recommendations for preventing obesity. They range from simply eating more fruit and vegetables to adding "high-quality physical education" in schools and bringing more supermarkets to low-income communities.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at the launch that the Obama administration was investing $650 million in economic stimulus money in wellness and prevention programs aimed at obesity and stopping smoking.

She introduced the first lady as "everyone's favorite vegetable gardener."

Obama, who created a White House garden with local school children, said the solution to the obesity epidemic cannot come from government alone. Everyone has to be willing to do their part to end the public health crisis.

"This will not be easy and it won't happen overnight. And it won't happen simply because the first lady has made it her priority," Obama told an audience of children's advocates at a recreation center in Alexandria, outside Washington.

"It's going to take all of us. Thank God it's not going to be solely up to me."

Two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one in three children are overweight or obese -- a condition that increases their risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

The United States spends nearly $150 billion a year on obesity and related complications -- twice what it cost in 1998 and more than every cancer cost put together, Sebelius said.

"The unhealthier we are as a nation, the more our health care costs will continue to rise and the less competitive we will be globally," she said.

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

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