WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Alarmed that nearly a third of U.S. children are obese or overweight — and likely to stay that way all their lives — President Barack Obama launched an initiative on Tuesday to roll back the numbers and put his wife in charge of promoting it.
Obama signed an executive order setting up a task force to include Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other cabinet officials.
“I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight,” Obama said in signing the order on Tuesday at the White House.
He asked first lady Michelle Obama to head up a national public awareness effort.
“She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector — the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth — to help support and amplify the work of the federal government in improving the health of our children,” Obama said.
“Obesity has been recognized as a problem for decades, but efforts to address this crisis to date have been insufficient.”
He assigned his cabinet officers to meet within three months and come up with “a comprehensive interagency plan.”
Reports on the U.S. obesity epidemic have recommended such an approach.
The independent Institute of Medicine has found in several studies that Americans will have to exercise more, eat less fatty and sugary food and eat more fruits and vegetables to overcome obesity and the heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems it brings.
But the independent Institute has also recommended policy changes to help people accomplish this — changes in zoning to encourage exercise, changes in school lunch programs, policies to encourage grocery stores to open in areas where healthy food is hard to come by and better public transport to get people out of their cars.
“Without effective intervention, many more children will endure serious illnesses that will put a strain on our healthcare system. We must act now to improve the health of our nation’s children and avoid spending billions of dollars treating preventable disease,” Obama said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 68 percent of U.S. adults are overweight and half of these are obese, with a body mass index of 30 or higher.
Obesity rates were relatively stable between 1960 and 1980 but have risen rapidly since 1980.
Reporting by Maggie Fox