Will we let obesity kill us?

All-out effort needed to reverse trends

By Walt Braun

It wasn’t so long ago that Type 2 diabetes was called “adult onset” diabetes for the simple reason that it almost always showed up in adults. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.

And just as Americans — including parents, the food industry and lawmakers –— are responsible, we have the power to undo the harm and at least prevent more of our children from becoming diabetics.

About 3,600 children each year are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. And the number is rising. What’s more, even with physical activity regimens, the disease is harder to treat in children than it is in adults.

Almost one in 10 Americans (almost 30 million) now has diabetes; worse, another 75 million to 80 million of us have high enough levels of blood glucose to be considered prediabetic.

The debate continues about how many deaths this causes or contributes to, but there’s little debate about the primary cause. It’s obesity, and the chief causes of obesity include sugar- and fat-laden diets and inadequate exercise. Worse, diabetes is hardly the only consequence of obesity. Heart disease is another.

The lack of success in fighting obesity — two-thirds of American adults and one-third of our children are overweight — has led public health officials to wonder whether a campaign such as that which was waged against tobacco could help.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it could be effective. Unlike cigarettes, which are inherently harmful, food is a necessity — and much of it is healthful.

The anti-tobacco campaign enjoyed considerable success. Americans got the message that cigarettes are addictive and toxic, and despite intense lobbying by the tobacco industry, the percentage of Americans who smoke fell steadily for years.

Not only have hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from lung cancer been prevented, but so have deaths from other ailments associated with tobacco use, including emphysema and heart disease.

That was a multi-faceted campaign which, importantly, involved parents; even many parents who couldn’t quit smoking themselves discouraged their children from picking up the habit.

If efforts to reverse the trends involving obesity, particularly among children, are to be successful, parents in great numbers will have to accept and act on the wisdom of keeping unhealthy foods — including sugary snacks and fast foods — away from their children.

That is the battle. It won’t be quick or easy to win, but it’s one we can’t afford to lose.

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