US Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were briefed on obesity in the United States. About two in three American adults are obese or overweight. But the emphasis for legislators was on childhood obesity.
There is good and bad news
It's bad news and good news for childhood obesity in the United States.
The good news is: childhood obesity has leveled off in the past nine years.
But William Dietz, at the Centers for Disease Control, says it's still an epidemic. "There's a total of 31 percent of children and adolescents in the United States at risk for the complications of obesity," Dietz said.
That equals one in three kids. The CDC found the highest levels among Mexican American boys and African American girls. It says obesity affects medical costs, the economy, and a child's ability to learn. But the main impact is on health.
"We are on a dangerous course in the United States where our children will no longer outlive our lifetime on earth," Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt said. "But where we may outlive theirs."
Dietz says diabetes is one consequence of obesity. High school senior Ryan Siegal learned from experience. "I got clinically obese and that led to me being pre-diabetic, and I was taking insulin for it," Siegal said. "But through sports and medication, I lost the weight."
Food: education versus availability of better choices
Surprisingly, experts don't think education will make a difference. Instead, they say the availability of good choices is key.
For example, fruits and vegetables are good, not only because they are low in calories, but also because their water content means they are more filling.
But fresh produce is difficult to find, here in the inner city where there are plenty of fast food restaurants, but few grocery stores.
That's why Gwen Gray buys fast food for her children. "We got Giant and Safeway [supermarkets], but they got so expensive and you got to go a little ways to get to them. If you ain't got [don't have] a car, you got to travel by bus or get a ride," she said.
Jotresa Williams says it's cost that drives her to fried foods. "It's very high these days. The grocery store is high," Williams asserts.
150 calories per day, makes a difference
A recent study found when fast food restaurants are located within a block of a high school, the student obesity rate is 5 percent higher.
Doctors say the difference between a healthy child and an obese one is about 150 calories a day, equal to half a candy bar. It's an easy choice -- as long as better choices are available.