Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Fighting Childhood Obesity

Posted on October 26, 2008

Today's children are likely to be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents because of rising rates of childhood obesity. Tennessee has the 4th highest obesity rate for children in the country, but this isn’t just a problem for our state alone. This is a national epidemic and solving it will require a national effort by individuals and their families, schools, the government, and the private sector. Over the last 40 years, obesity rates quadrupled for Americans aged 6-11 years, and tripled for adolescents aged 12-19 years. In addition to the numerous troubling health problems associated with childhood obesity, some reports indicate that this epidemic costs our country nearly $14 billion a year in direct health expenses. The dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes among children over the last 20 years is just one of the serious health problems closely associated with the obesity epidemic. The seriousness of the issue must not be overlooked. Diabetes can cause heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, pregnancy complications, lower-extremity amputations, and deaths related to flu and pneumonia. This is a very disturbing problem, but it’s a problem we can control through diet and exercise. That’s why last week I chaired a hearing at Meharry Medical College in Nashville to focus attention on the childhood obesity problem in Tennessee and throughout the South. This hearing of the Children and Families Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) built on two previous childhood obesity hearings in Washington. At Meharry, I was joined by health experts who testified about the scope of the problem and ways to address it – including Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Susan Cooper, Dr. Shari Barkin of the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and Dr. Susanna Tropez-Sims of Meharry Medical College. Another witness at the hearing was David Griffin from Season 4 of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” Mr. Griffin, a native of Cedar Hill, Tenn., told us of his life-changing experience of being a contestant of “The Biggest Loser.” Despite being the eighth contestant cut from the show, Griffin eventually lost 180 pounds. His story serves as a good example for overweight children who want to turn their lives around. Our response to this childhood obesity epidemic as a country has been woefully inadequate. I learned a lot this week at the hearing and I look forward to returning to Washington to work on reversing this dangerous trend so that Americans can live longer, healthier lives.