Sebelius: Money to be used for obesity prevention

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday said "a significant amount" of the $1 billion appropriated for prevention as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used "to help states and communities attack obesity and other public health challenges."

Speaking at the Weight of the Nation Conference in Washington, Ms. Sebelius said Americans, while wanting to lose weight and recognizing it is important to do so, have lacked a plan to accomplish their goals. That has changed, she said, with the publication of research such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States."

Ms. Sebelius stopped short of officially announcing an initiative to address obesity, but elaborated on the government’s plans.

"The first thing is that if the government wants people to start eating healthy food, we need to start serving it," she said. "That means offering more nutritious meals, not just in public schools but also in child care centers, recreation centers, senior centers and other government buildings."

Secondly, she said the United States needs more healthy options in neighborhoods.

"Many rural Americans and urban Americans have the same problem: they don’t have any supermarkets that sell fresh produce where they live," she said. "When you can’t buy fresh produce, it’s hard to eat healthy. … This isn’t rocket science. People want to eat healthy diets, but they tend to eat whatever’s convenient and affordable. If we want to reduce obesity, we need to make eating fruits and vegetables convenient and affordable for all Americans."

Other initiatives include making cities safe for walking and biking and more investments in public transportation.

In addition to addressing obesity, part of the $1 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used for immunizations and part toward helping prevent patients from getting infections during surgeries and other medical treatments.

A report released earlier in the conference found that obesity costs the U.S. health system about $147 billion a year.

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