Governors Urge Change in Eating Culture (AP)12 years, 10 months ago
Posted on Mar 04, 2006, 6 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
Greasy food. Sugary drinks. And exercise? The tolls from today's temptations, from sweet soft drinks popular with school kids to drive-through lunches eaten behind the wheel, are well-known: obesity, diabetes, heart attacks. Governors say states can guide people to healthier choices and that they must to cut rising health care costs.
AP - Greasy food. Sugary drinks. And exercise? The tolls from today's temptations, from sweet soft drinks popular with school kids to drive-through lunches eaten behind the wheel, are well-known: obesity, diabetes, heart attacks. Governors say states can guide people to healthier choices — and that they must to cut rising health care costs.
Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is leading the way among the dozens of governors gathered here Saturday for their annual meeting, with a zeal that comes from knowing the costs up close, both personal and financial. Four years ago, his doctor diagnosed him with type 2 diabetes and said he was sure to die an early death. The then 290-pound Huckabee said: "Can we rewrite the last chapter of this book?"
He went on to do just that, changing his eating habits — "anything fried" — starting an exercise regimen, and dropping 110 pounds. Next week, the Republican who jokes about running for the presidency runs another marathon, his third, back in Little Rock.
On a personal level, it means he's rewritten his future. But for Huckabee, along with many governors who've joined with his initiative, the aim is much broader — to change the nation's focus from treating disease to preventing it, and so doing to save lives and get control of soaring health care costs. That in turn would free state governments, workers and private business to spend their money on other demands.
"Every single one of our states is being confronted with an extraordinary crisis, as well as an epidemic ... of overeating, underexercising and smoking," Huckabee told a crowd of governors, health officials and experts, and lobbyists. "The fact is 2,000 Americans will die today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. They'll die not because of some calamity. They'll die because of cultural and lifestyle choices that we can really work on."
The toll is 700,000 a year from chronic diseases. And the cost is $117 billion a year to the economy.
It's time to change the nation's culture, Huckabee said, in the same way that the nation changed its thinking on littering, drinking and driving, smoking and driving without a seatbelt.
States can be key movers, governors said. Among some of the programs already operating:
• Enroll overweight recipients of Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, into Weight Watchers at a discounted rate, as Tennessee has done.
• Provide fresh, local produce at discounted costs to thousands of rural residents, as a Hawaiian health clinic in Oahu has done with federal and state support.
• Boost physical education programs at public schools with specific guidelines and policy changes, as encouraged by a Michigan program.
"Health care has to be about keeping people healthy. Not just helping them after they've become sick," said Michael Leavitt, secretary of the federal.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University's School of Medicine, drew the timeline that's seen the rise in obesity in adults and children, and the rise of type 2 diabetes among children and youths — a disease that almost never used to appear among children.
"What was a disease of overweight, sedentary adults has migrated down the age curve and is now routine in kids under the age of 10. This has happened on your watch, this has happened on my watch. We must share in the shame," Katz said.
The cause is simple — humans adapated and evolved to do hard physical exercise with relatively few calories, but modern life offers the exact opposite, with every convenience from cars to escalators, and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Katz likened modern American man to polar bears living in a desert, with all the health damage that would bring.
He dismissed the occasional study that questioned the rise in obesity, and said the evidence is overwhelming. "This is not a crisis of cosmetics. This is a bonafide health crisis," he said.
The first two days of the governors' gathering — before they begin policy discussions withand Cabinet officials on Monday — focuses on different programs in place, ways to get the public engaged and how states can go further. On the last day, governors will hear from former President , who has joined Huckabee in his effort to focus on improving health.
"This more than a call to action, it's a call to innovation," Huckabee said. The impact will affect much more than state government, but private business, too. "There isn't a CEO in America who doesn't get it. ... You don't shift a culture immediately. But we have to turn this battleship around."
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