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Youth Obesity: A Problem That Has Become ... Too Big

Georgia lawmakers should be prodded into devising ways to promote healthy eating habits.

Editor's Note: Jacob Friesen Grant, a 2012 graduate of and the Marva Jones Brooks Summer Intern at the Midtown law firm Arnall Golden Gregory, authored this article about youth obesity. He will attend Syracuse University to pursue a dual degree in video broadcast journalism and information management technology:

Georgia’s child obesity rate is the second highest in the U.S.; 40 percent of Georgia children are obese or overweight. In my age group, 12-19, the percentage of obese youngsters rose from 5 percent to 18 percent from 1980 to 2008, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC says nearly 1 million kids in Georgia suffer from obesity-related illnesses and the annual cost of treating those illnesses is $2.4 billion. So the consequences of childhood obesity affect all Americans.

The CDC defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. The list of maladies linked to obesity is varied:

  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Poor self esteem

What accounts for the growth of such an unhealthy lifestyle? Several factors may play a role, but two stand out: easy access to inexpensive, fat-laden food and the boom in technology that spurs hours of sitting.

Portion sizes and snacking have increased significantly over the past 40 years, with calorie intake up 31 percent in that period, according to Let’s Move, a campaign spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama that focuses on educating youth and parents about healthy eating.

What teenager glued to a computer or TV screen has not heard something like this from a parent? “Back in the day, we just went outside and ran till the sun went down.” My peers might roll their eyes, but the adults have a point. Youngsters 8-18 years old spend 7.5 hours a day on digital entertainment, Let’s Move says. Only one-third of high school students engage in enough physical activity.

So what can be done to reverse this dangerous trend? In New York State, one lawmaker has suggested adding a tax to movie tickets, video games and DVD rentals to fund exercise and nutrition programs. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed limiting the size of soft drinks sold at movie theaters, sports arenas, food carts and restaurants to 16 ounces. The proposal sparked a "Million Big Gulp March" protest on July 9. The city’s Board of Health, appointed by the mayor, is expected to approve the measure after a three-month comment period, and it could take effect as early as March.

and the similar Strong4Life, organized by , strive to raise awareness about the dangers of obesity. Children’s Healthcare launched a blunt ad campaign to draw attention to the obesity problem. Billboards have said “My Fat May Be Funny to You But It’s Killing Me” and “Fat Prevention Starts at Home and at the Buffet Line.”

But if provocative ads are what it takes to get serious about obesity, then they deserve our support. Georgia lawmakers should be prodded into devising ways to incentivize healthy eating habits.

The most important step all of us can take is to spread the word that overeating is harmful to your health. Educate yourself, your friends and your family and put a stop to this epidemic.

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