* Half of all Americans will be obese by 2030 - report
* More companies vowing to take steps to address kids'
* Access to healthier foods increasing, group says
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, March 7 U.S. companies and other
groups that have made attempts to reverse the nation's rising
childhood obesity rate are starting to see results as more
American kids exercise and have better access to healthy foods,
they said on Thursday.
More than 1,700 U.S. cities have promoted exercise to get
nearly 3 million more kids moving in the last year, according to
a report by the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit
that works to get private companies and organizations to pledge
specific action to fight the weight epidemic.
Still, if left unchecked, about half of all Americans will
be obese by 2030, according to the group, whose partners range
from Darden Restaurants Inc and Walmart Stores Inc
to the YMCA and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Some health advocates welcomed the findings but said more
effort was still needed, including government action.
Already, one in three U.S. youth are obese and another third
are overweight. Experts are worried because heavier children are
more likely to remain overweight as adults, and suffer a higher
incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.
"We're seeing pockets of progress toward reversing the
childhood obesity epidemic," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "For progress to reach every
corner of our country, we must redouble our efforts: parents,
schools, nonprofit organizations, government at all levels, and
the private sector."
Childhood obesity carries significant healthcare related
costs and even poses national security risks, experts say, by
reducing the pool of those fit for military service.
Some of the partner companies have pledged to change food
offerings on restaurant menus or work to get more children into
activities like soccer or tennis, according to the group, which
released the report as part of its annual conference in
Washington that also headlined First Lady Michelle Obama.
The group has said it wants to help 10 million Americans
gain access to healthier foods, saying 23.5 million people in
the United States - including 6.5 million children - have no
nearby access to options like fresh produce or cannot afford to
Already, 141 grocery stores have been built or renovated in
so-called "food deserts," often low-income urban neighborhoods
without nearby grocery stores, helping more than a half-million
people, it said.
"In places like Philadelphia, New York City and Mississippi
- places where folks from every sector are working together -
we've seen childhood obesity rates begin to come down," said
Obama, who has made tackling obesity her signature issue while
in the White House.
Fruits and vegetables, meat and other whole foods can often
be more expensive than processed ones that contain subsidized
ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup.
Some health experts have been critical of the food industry
for offering unhealthy products. Manufacturers have long pointed
to consumer choice, but many have begun to change their
offerings in recent years as more U.S. consumers become health
Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, another honorary vice
chairman and a Democrat, told MSNBC the annual progress report
is important for holding companies accountable to their
commitments to change.
On Thursday, several more companies joined the partnership,
including GE Healthcare, part of General Electric Co, and
Cerner Corp, among others.