Thompson, a pediatrician and member of Partnership for Prevention’s Council of Advisors, told the Senate panel: “We need to make healthy choices the easy choice for children and families.”
He warned “Obesity is affecting our military readiness, crippling state and national budgets, and putting U.S. businesses at a competitive disadvantage by reducing worker productivity and increasing health care costs…(W)e have created an environment that fosters rather than prevents childhood obesity. We did not intentionally get here, but we must intentionally find our way forward. The environments in which people live, learn work and play affect their health and the health of their communities.”
Thompson highlighted work going on in his home state of Arkansas to go beyond the school environment and use coalitions to support communities solutions to “improve access to healthy foods, address the built environment, engage early childcare and after-school programs in health eating and physical activity, encourage employers through worksite wellness, and partner with health care providers.” He also shared with Senators the work being undertaken in Dallas with a lack of sidewalks has created a dangerous and sedentary environment for pedestrian travel. The effort resulted in a $12 million dollar public – private effort that helped “connect all of the trails in the Dallas trail system to allow people to travel from one side of the city to the other without intersecting traffic.”
Perhaps the most important message Thompson left Senators was the warning that to prevent childhood obesity, change is necessary on many levels and “the federal government cannot do this alone.” He had specific and useful advice for school officials, government leaders, food and beverage industries and parents.
Reversing childhood obesity is an opportunity for those of us in public health to reach out beyond the traditional health community and find new friends and allies among business, land use and transportation stakeholders. We need to make elected officials at the local, state and Federal level more aware that having access to affordable healthy foods and safe places for children to play is of concern to all sectors that support a healthy and prosperous community.
This latest Senate hearing on childhood obesity prevention was entitled: “Beginning the Dialogue on Reversing the Epidemic.” In recent years there’s been much talk in Congress about childhood obesity and hopefully, all that talk will now lead to meaningful action. At the moment, meaningful action means passage of comprehensive health reform.
The health reform bill, H.R. 3590, now pending final passage in the US House of Representatives includes millions of dollars in critically needed funding to support the type of community prevention programs that will help reverse childhood obesity and bring healthier environments to every American community. Passage of this bill is a good place for Congress to start if they are serious about addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.