Childhood Obesity: Attacking a Crushing Epidemic

Will the report by the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity help?

ByABC News
May 12, 2010, 10:09 PM

May 13, 2010— -- Carla, one of my patients, stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs just over 250 pounds.

She finds it difficult to walk more than 50 feet without extreme shortness of breath.

Her weight has brought on diabetes, requiring insulin shots. It has made it so difficult for her to breathe while asleep that she needs a breathing machine at night to keep her airway open.

She is ashamed of her appearance and dreads being around her peers. She is isolated and cannot enjoy activities most people take for granted.

Carla is 15 years old. She is just one of my young patients who are overweight or obese.

As most people know, the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of overweight and obesity. In fact, two thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese.

And that is just adults. Unfortunately, this epidemic also affects children like Carla.

This week, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity released its report on how we as a society can attack this enormous challenge.

The future they outline -- and which they hope to prevent -- is scary. Today, one third of all children ages 2-19 are overweight or obese. The authors point out that most of these children will end up with diabetes sometime during their lifetime.

The costs of obesity, even today, are staggering. About 112,000 Americans die each year due to obesity-related diseases. Care for overweight- and obesity-induced conditions bring on $150 billion in health care expenditures each year, a figure that is bound to increase.

The generation of children born in 2000 will likely live shorter life spans their parents. Economic productivity of this generation will probably be less than their parents as well. Indeed, an obese adult adds $1,400 excess health care costs annually compared with his or her non-obese peers.

And these figures represent only the economic costs.

Obesity among youth impacts military readiness, for example. And it exacts a tremendous emotional toll the individual -- adult or child.

Like Carla, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy.