Weight Overload

Panel discusses policy and economic impact of obesity

On the second day of the Republican National Convention, public officials tackled the problem of obesity, a disease that has serious consequences for African Americans.

“We don”t have a healthcare crisis,” said former Gov. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who lost more than 100 pounds and reversed his type II diabetes. “We have a health crisis. We don”t prevent disease. We treat disease only after it has gotten out of hand and become catastrophic.”

This is the first time that both Democratic and Republican national party platforms have recognized obesity, notes Gary Foster, president of the Obesity Society, as he wrapped up a forum yesterday morning that featured Huckabee, Tommy G. Thompson, the former Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, and New Hampshire State Senator Bob Clegg.

Back in 2005, in an effort to tackle the rising obesity epidemic among African Americans, Health and Human Service Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the award of $1.2 million to improve efforts to reduce obesity among African Americans.

“The obesity epidemic is one of the major health challenges facing our nation, and African American communities are highly affected by this disease and its health consequences,” Secretary Leavitt said in April 2005. “The initiative we are announcing today will mobilize three of the nation’s premier academic and civic organizations to join us in a new partnership to mount critical prevention efforts in the African American community.”

In 2005, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non-Hispanic whites, and in 2003-2004, African American children between ages 6 -17 were 1.3 times as likely to be overweight than Non-Hispanic whites, reports the HHS”s Office of Minority Health.

“Obesity is not just a matter of will power,” said Dr. Caroline Apovian, an obesity society board member. “Obesity is a complex disease involving a mix of genes, environment and behavior.”

Results from a 2003-2004 CDC study indicate that an estimated 66% of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese. Obesity is based on the body mass index, and varies by height and weight. In addition to being linked to Type II diabetes, obesity is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and cancer, according to WebMD. Despite the statistics, Dr. Ada Fisher (who did not attend the forum) seems to disagree. “I don”t think you will find that those [conditions] are unique to the African American community,” says Fisher, the first African American woman and one of only three blacks this year elected to set the agenda for the Republican Party. “You will find them in Hispanics, Native American, and white populations as well.”

Finkelstein”s data also showed that there is a tremendous gap between African American woman and white and Hispanic women as income level decreases. Approximately 53% of non-Hispanic black women and 51% of Mexican-American women aged 40-59 were obese compared to about 39% of non-Hispanic white women of the same age, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among women 60 and older, 61% of non-Hispanic black women were obese compared to 37% of

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