For Immediate Release: March 26, 2009
TFAH Testifies before Congress on America's Obesity Epidemic during Economic Recession
Washington, DC - Richard Hamburg, Government Relations Director of Trust for America's Health (TFAH) testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture's Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry at a hearing that reviewed the state of obesity in the United States. Hamburg emphasized the urgency of addressing the obesity epidemic and the toll it is taking on the U.S. economy.
The full text of Hamburg's oral testimony is below:
Good afternoon. My name is Richard Hamburg, and I am the Director of Government Relations for Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a nonpartisan, nonprofit public health organization. I would like to thank the Chairman, the Ranking Member and the members of the Subcommittee for the opportunity to testify on a very serious issue - our nation's obesity epidemic.
Scope of the Problem
To examine obesity trends and policies each year, TFAH publishes a report on obesity entitled "F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America." The 2008 report found that adult obesity rates increased in 37 states in the past year. No state saw a decrease. In addition to the serious health impacts associated with this disease - Type 2 diabetes rates rose in 26 states - according to the Department of Health and Human Services, obese and overweight adults cost the U.S. anywhere from $69 billion to $117 billion per year. The current rise in food prices, coupled with the economic recession, raises serious concerns about obesity, as the high cost of many healthful foods can be prohibitive for some Americans. In fact, nutritionists are now worried that Americans will put on "recession pounds," pointing to studies linking obesity and unhealthy eating habits to low incomes
Unfortunately, as with too many other health problems facing our nation, obesity often disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. This is partly due to the fact that calorie dense foods tend to be less expensive. In addition, access is a serious problem, as many families live in communities referred to as "food deserts" because they do not have access to healthy foods and mainstream grocery outlets.
To address this problem, innovative organizations such as the Food Trust have been working to increase access to nutritious foods in underserved communities. The Food Trust provided policy recommendations to the Pennsylvania legislature which led to the creation of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, a grant and loan program to encourage supermarket development in underserved neighborhoods throughout the state. The Fresh Food Financing Initiative has committed more that $67 million in funding for 69 supermarket projects in 27 Pennsylvania counties, creating or preserving 3,900 jobs. We must continue to build on this progress by providing financial incentives for supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods with little access to healthy foods; encouraging farmers' markets to accept SNAP Electronic Benefits cards, WIC vouchers and Senior Famers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers; and working with schools to improve healthy options.
Obesity is a multi-faceted problem, with diverse causes and impacts across all sectors of society, that has taken decades to become a full-fledged epidemic. To begin to mitigate and ultimately reverse this epidemic, we will need a sustained commitment over time to invest in population-based prevention strategies and coordinate our efforts to combat obesity. We need a cultural shift, one in which healthy environments, physical activity and healthy eating become the norm. Last July TFAH released a report entitled Prevention for a Healthier America, which examined how much the country could save by strategically investing in community disease prevention programs. The report concludes that an investment of $10 per person per year in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. We must invest in effective evidence-based, community-based prevention programs to promote increased physical activity and good sound nutrition.
While it has taken years for the obesity epidemic to develop, it will also take a coordinated effort over time to begin to mitigate it. States and localities have been hard at work, and currently, 40 states have plans and strategies in place to lower the prevalence of overweight, obesity and obesity-related chronic diseases. However, at this time, we have no national, coordinated effort to combat obesity. We strongly support the development of a National Strategy to Combat Obesity. This needs to be a comprehensive, realistic plan that involves every department and agency of the federal government, state and local governments, businesses, communities, schools, families, and individuals. In fact, in the near future Representatives Towns and Granger will re-introduce a bill that encompasses this recommendation, and I encourage your support for this approach.
In conclusion, our country needs to focus on developing policies that help Americans make healthier choices about nutrition and physical activity. We know that even small changes can make a big difference in people's health - and that individuals don't make decisions in a vacuum. If we want Americans to lead healthy, productive lives, we need a strong partnership from the government, private and nonprofit sectors, as well as parents and teachers, to emphasize wellness and enhance nutrition and physical activity. The challenge is a big one, but we can make a difference together. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.