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Report Weighs-In on Increasing Overweight and Obesity Issues in California

February 20, 2009

UC Merced Professor Co-Author of Report Presented to State Lawmakers

MERCED, CA— Health and medical professionals
have cited sobering statistics in recent years about the
ever-increasing waistline of adults and children in the United
States and the long-term impact carrying that extra weight will
have on our collective health and economy.

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 today 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.”


Donna Birch Trahan