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Childhood Obesity Epidemic a Long-Term Challenge
Date:9/20/2007

It may take decades to reverse the health threats, experts say

THURSDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- In the 1980s and '90s, Americans tried to control their weight by watching their cholesterol by cutting dietary fat and substituting carbohydrates. They paid little mind to total calories and physical activity. And guess what happened to their waistlines -- and their children's?

"It was just an end run around the issue of health maintenance," said Dr. Henry C. McGill Jr., senior scientist emeritus at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas. "And, of course, it crept over into kids, especially kids subjected to all of the advertising and offerings of high-density caloric food -- opportunities to avoid physical activity, attractions to television viewing and net surfing."

Today, more than one in three children and adolescents in the United States -- some 25 million kids -- are overweight or obese, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which recently announced an unprecedented effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. The Princeton, N.J.-based philanthropy said it plans to spend at least $500 million over the next five years on public health efforts focusing on kids and families in underserved communities.

It's the foundation's largest commitment ever. While the foundation has spent roughly as much in the area of tobacco over the years, "we never made the scale of that commitment up-front and public like we have with this," said Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president and director of the foundation's health group.

"If we don't deal with children," he added, "this could be the first generation that will live sicker and die younger than its parents."

Scientists, physicians and public health advocates know that efforts to prevent obesity must start in childhood, because the problem leads to increased risk of coronary heart disease and oth
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