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Sebelius offers solutions to high cost of obesity

July 28, 2009 |  4:50 pm

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There’s no way to get healthcare spending under control without getting Americans to trim their waistlines.

So says Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a speech delivered today to the first-ever Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, D.C., she outlined the importance of fighting obesity.

A report released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which organized the conference – pegged annual health spending tied to obesity at $147 billion. By comparison, the American Cancer Society says it costs $93 billion a year to treat all types of cancer. “So ending obesity would save our healthcare system 50% more dollars than curing cancer,” Sebelius said.

The solution, of course, is to eat healthier foods and to exercise more. That’s easier said than done.

But Sebelius did her best to sound encouraging. She cited a study that found that consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables rose 33% each time a new supermarket opened in an African American neighborhood. She also noted that sales of fruit and carrots rose when high school cafeterias cut prices.

“If we want to reduce obesity, we need to make eating fruits and vegetables convenient and affordable,” she said.

On the exercise front, she said, some of the solutions are relatively simple. For example, schools should buy more equipment so that kids could spend their recess time actually playing instead of waiting around in line. Simply offering bus transportation to a dance class doubled the number of girls who participated.

Check out this story for more on the address. You can register here to watch a webcast of the conference of follow along on Twitter by searching "Weight of the Nation" or "#won09."

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Making fruits and vegetables more convenient and less expensive would go a long way toward reducing obesity. Credit: Damon Winter/Los Angeles Times

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