National Focus on Obesity

Since early spring, a new battle cry has resounded from the Oval Office, through the halls on Capitol Hill, and to various government agencies:

Fat, out-of-shape Americans need to pull in their flanks and bring up their rears in a newly declared battle of the bulge.

Few news items could play as sweetly to trainers' ears. This could mean a significant increase in business to those who position themselves now to capitalize on the government's all-out push to get these initiatives and some newly introduced legislation rolling. Recent events include three notable and highly publicized actions designed to promote fitness among U.S. citizens:

In June, President Bush introduced a new federal campaign called the HealthierUS Initiative. (For a detailed report on this initiative, see IDEA Health & Fitness Source, September 2002.) "This is an important message we are sending to America," President Bush said when launching the campaign. "This initiative is part of this administration's ongoing commitment to raising awareness about the benefits of exercise and healthy choices."

In a week of special fitness-related appearances to promote this agenda, the President also announced the "revitalization" of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a group committed to "making America a healthier place by encouraging individual responsibility," he said.

In a related move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced a new media campaign to combat childhood obesity through a series of ads placed in major media outlets. Aimed at children ages 9 through 13, the campaign will reportedly focus on the fun associated with physical activity.

At the end of July, U.S. Senators Bill Frist (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) introduced comprehensive legislation aimed at reducing obesity, particularly among children and adolescents. The Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (IMPACT) recognizes significant problems associated with obesity--including heart disease, diabetes and cancer--and works to reduce those problems by encouraging better nutrition and more physical activity. The bill calls for the expenditure of more than $256 million per fiscal year between 2003 and 2007 to educate the public, provide ongoing research, and develop and promote community outreach projects to stop obesity in its tracks.

Senator Frist, the only physician currently serving in the Senate, said, "This bill is about giving Americans the information necessary to make informed choices."

"Obesity is our nation's fastest-rising public health problem, and it's increasingly affecting every segment of the American population--particularly young people," added Bingaman. "As a nation, we can no longer afford to ignore the escalating costs associated with obesity and unhealthy lifestyles such as physical inactivity and poor dietary habits."

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