If overweight children are developing illnesses that once struck only the elderly -- and costing billions in health care dollars as a result -- it may be time to limit the number of fast-food restaurants, one political leader says.
Contra Costa County Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier will ask the board today to study restricting the development of high-fat fast-food eateries and a host of other measures designed to attack obesity among the young.
A comprehensive proposal by the Concord supervisor also calls on schools, restaurants and health institutions to adopt fitness-friendly practices and products.
"It's like with tobacco," he said. "We were very proactive (in banning) smoking. This is a crisis and it's a tragedy, and the costs are staggering."
Costs for the multipronged program would largely be born by the federal government, "because it's becoming so well acknowledged that childhood obesity is such a huge problem," he said Monday.
If it passes, Contra Costa would become the first county in the state with a comprehensive policy attacking childhood obesity. Several cities and school districts have taken on portions of what this resolution proposes, said Amanda Purcell, policy director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
Despite intense lobbying by soft drink manufacturers, California lawmakers in May passed a bill by state Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Montebello, that phases out soda sales in schools.
It was fought aggressively by the California-Nevada Soft Drink Association, the American Beverage Association and the American Council on Fitness and Nutrition, whose members include soft drink, candy and snack food manufacturers.
DeSaulnier said he expects some opposition. But much of his plan is advisory. He would encourage parks and recreation facilities to dump high-calorie vending machine fare in favor of healthy alternatives.
The proposal directs county departments to find ways to limit new fast-food outlets. Many questions have yet to be answered -- for instance, what constitutes a fast-food restaurant.
Kids are bulking up at a pace that has alarmed health practitioners. And it's costing plenty in health care costs.
DeSaulnier cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control that shows the population of overweight children between the ages of 6 and 11 more than doubled between 1980 and 2002 and tripled for youths age 12 to 19 during the same period.
The upshot has been a spike in the incidence of childhood diabetes, health researchers report.
"Childhood obesity is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart diseases," said Tracy Rattray, director of the county's Community Wellness and Prevention division. "Those are some of the biggest killers."
And some of the most expensive illnesses to treat. According to a state study, obesity costs in 2000 came to $22 billion statewide, including medical treatment, workers' compensation and lost productivity.
The disease once called adult onset diabetes is now called Type II diabetes because so many children are being diagnosed with it, Purcell said.
Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputation of limbs and heart disease.
The problem is more insidious than the availability of junk food and too many immobile hours. While watching TV, kids are a captive audience for commercials plugging fast-food, soda, candy and sugary cereals, DeSaulnier's report says.
A restaurateur, DeSaulnier also advocates awards for restaurants that offer "a high complement of health and nutritious menu items" and rank their dishes in terms of healthfulness.
News stories provided by third parties are not edited by "Site Publication" staff. For suggestions and comments, please click the Contact link at the bottom of this page.