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Ramp up the fight against obesity in U.S. children

May 9, 2012 - By Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.)

Type 2 diabetes was once known as the "adult onset" type, because it came on only in adulthood.

But youth no longer confers immunity. Thanks to rampant childhood obesity, Type 2 is increasingly being diagnosed among American kids. Although the numbers are still small, the growth of this disease among the young is another troubling sign of how serious America's weight problem has become.

By federal standards, a third of American children and two-thirds of adults weigh more than they should.

The health consequences of the obesity epidemic among kids demand immediate action. Children's food choices are heavily dependent on adults, and childhood obesity predicts a lifetime of struggles with weight and disease.

It's time for an all-out national campaign to change this disturbing picture.

We've done it before. America is a world leader in the fight against smoking; a study recently in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that aggressive U.S. anti-tobacco policies from 1975 to 2000 prevented more than 795,000 premature deaths from lung cancer.

No sensible parent would dream of letting children smoke, and none should let children become seriously overweight. Obese kids suffer more health problems and tend to become obese adults.

The first step in attacking this problem is raising parental awareness. Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a pediatric hospital, recently launched a tough ad campaign to shock parents into acknowledging the problem.

It's too early to tell what these ads are accomplishing, and some critics say they could backfire by further stigmatizing obese kids. But a harsh New York City anti-smoking campaign appears to have had some success.

Similar results might be possible in combating childhood obesity, which has leveled off in recent years, although at far too high a rate.

The Georgia ads are aimed at motivating parents, but they're also part of a five-year, $25 million drive that includes training for pediatricians and launching school programs.

It's time to ramp up such an effort nationally -- a well funded, high profile assault to roll back the harm we're doing to our children. Sugar-coating this problem won't make it go away.

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