Childhood Obesity Requires Congressional Attention, Experts Say
Rep. Cynthia Lummis was incorrectly identified as a Democrat in an earlier edition of this story. She is a Republican.
By Lauren C. Williams
Capital News Service
Thursday, March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON - Former Maryland school nurse Donna Mazyck once had a student not only go off the charts, but completely off the scale.
In her testimony on the need for fitness and nutrition education in schools to members of Congress Thursday she recalled a student who asked if she could weigh herself.
Before Mazyck had the chance to help, the girl said, "This scale doesn't work!" Mazyck looked and realized that the scale was not broken, but that the girl weighed more than the highest weight the scale could register -- 250 pounds.
The student, whose name and age were not revealed, suffered from shortness of breath, endured teasing from fellow classmates and suffered from psychological distress, according to Mazyck, president of the National Association of School Nurses based in Silver Spring.
Mazyck, with other nutrition and health advocates, spoke before the House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. The panel told Chairman Joe Baca, D-Calif.; and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., that nutrition and fitness education paired with disease prevention are essential in combating childhood obesity.
Current medical care "focuses on treatment" after health problems arise, said panelist Anne Wolf, registered dietitian and research instructor at the University of Virginia.
Wolf also suggested that health insurance companies provide subsidies to families who practice healthy habits.
Childhood obesity is "setting the stage for chronic diseases later in life," said panelist Martin Yadrick, registered dietitian and president of the American Dietetic Association.
Moreover, half of the morbidly obese population was obese or overweight as children, said panelist William Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention at the CDC.
Five percent of the adult population has a body mass index, a measurement of a person's body weight in proportion to height, of at least 40. A BMI between 25 and 29 is defined as overweight, one of 30 and over is considered obese and a BMI of 40 or more is considered morbidly obese, translating into being about 100 pounds overweight.
As of 2007, one of four Maryland adults was considered obese, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 36 percent were overweight.
Obesity in adults can lead to the development of chronic conditions and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke and heart attack.
Children who are obese can suffer from these same chronic conditions, said Mazyck. Additionally, overweight and obese children are often subject to bullying and ridicule, which can have damaging emotional and psychological effects.
Among Maryland high school students, 10 percent are considered obese and 15 percent are overweight, said Audrey Regan, director for the Office of Chronic Disease Program, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Almost 15 percent of Maryland's low-income children ages 2 to 5 are obese.
Some of these children have developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. Many suffer from bone and joint problems and poor self-esteem, said Regan.
"Small interventions can have great effects on health" and health care policy, said panelist Richard Hamburg, director of government relations for Trust for America's Health.
"We can reshape America, right here," Baca said of developing policy to curb childhood obesity in his closing remarks. "I have to lose 20 pounds and I'm going to do it a little at a time."