Recommendations given to fight childhood obesity

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Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Minnesota and it continues to get bigger.


However, a dozen legislators met four times during the interim to see what can be done.


Their sextet of categorical recommendations for the 2010 Legislature was shared at a joint hearing of the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee and House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee.  (Watch the hearing.)


Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), who co-chaired the group with Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) and Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), said the recommendations “were based on the recognition of extremely restrictive state and school district budgets and a desire to keep the recommendations primarily focused on the school environment.”


Among recommendations within the categories are:
• statewide physical education standards should be adopted based on current national standards or state-level benchmarks to allow districts implementation flexibility and access to federal funds;
• physical activity should be integrated into non-physical education classes, recess and extra-curricular activities using physical education teachers as resources;
• quality recess guidelines should be established to help all students increase their activity levels, build social skills and decrease behavioral issues;
• promote Farm to School programs, where healthy food comes from local growers; and


• districts must post wellness policies on their websites.


There is a strong correlation between physical activity and increased academic performance, Dettmer said.


“If we can increase academic skills while reducing future health costs, it sounds like a win-win,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), who chairs the education committee.


A number of health professionals testified about the increased costs and upward obesity trends.


For example, approximately 16.9 percent of American youth ages 2 to 19 were obese in 2007-08, compared to 5 percent from 1976-80. About $147 billion is spent annually on obesity-related medical care expenses, about 9.1 percent of total annual medical expenses. That number was 6.5 percent in 1998.


Obesity is expected to drive about one-third of the increase in health care costs. Minnesotans paid about $9.3 billion in 2005 to treat obesity-related issues. If the current trends continue, treating Minnesota’s obese and overweight population would cost an additional $900 million each year by 2010 and $3.7 billion by 2020. (Hear more numbers.)


Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) suggested putting sin taxes on unhealthy foods, like has been done with cigarettes.


– Mike Cook