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Report weighs in on obesity in California


The facts are staggering: nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese; 34 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese. The increase in obesity - fueled by unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity - has led to a surge in diabetes during the last 20 years. Moreover, in California, some ethnic groups - Latinos, African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans - are affected disproportionately.  

While all of those statistics are troubling, there is another that is particularly disturbing, according to University of California, Merced professor Rudy Ortiz. If nothing is done to curtail the increasing rates of obesity in children, they will be the first generation of offspring who will not outlive their parents.

Those are some of the findings included in a report being distributed to California law makers. The 42-page Legislative Task Force on Diabetes & Obesity Report to the California Legislature covers the impact obesity and diabetes has on a number of different levels, from personal health to economics. It also includes recommendations on how policies can be implemented to address obesity at home, in the workplace, schools and community.

The report was written by professors M.R.C. Greenwood of UC Davis, Patricia B. Crawford of UC Berkeley and Ortiz, a physiologist who also teaches a nutrition course at UC Merced. The authors are members of the Legislative Task Force on Diabetes and Obesity.

The task force, which is chaired by California Assemblymember Joe Coto (D-San Jose), includes elected officials, representatives from University of California campuses and health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association.

Ortiz was the UC Merced appointed member to the task force since its inception in 2006. That year, California's State Assembly passed ACR 114, a measure that established the Legislative Task Force on Diabetes and Obesity. The task force's primary goals were to study and evaluate the various factors that contribute to high rates of diabetes and obesity in minority populations and to prepare a report that included recommendations to reduce their incidence among affected groups.

"I thought this would be a great opportunity to help come up with some real solutions," Ortiz said. The increase in obesity and diabetes "is a huge problem that hasn't even come to a head yet. It's only getting worse."

Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, the most common form diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Type 2 diabetes is associated with insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. If left untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to heart disease, nerve and kidney damage, blindness, osteoporosis and other health problems.

The report includes recommendations on how to combat the problems that lead to obesity. For example, the task force recommends developing tax incentive programs to encourage employers to adopt policies that make healthy eating and physical activity easier for workers.

Recommendations for schools include increasing meal reimbursement for schools that provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students for breakfast and lunch, increasing funding for physical education and creating a public education campaign that encourages healthy lifestyle choices.

While some of the recommendations would require additional funding, some can be incorporated with some resourceful thinking without incurring an additional burden on the state's budget, Ortiz said.

"It might cost some money up front, but the bottom line is, if we don't make changes very soon, the financial costs associated with obesity will be much greater over the next 10 to 15 years, Ortiz said. "Assemblymember Coto and his office should be commended for getting us to this point. It's a huge step in the right direction."