OBESITY INTERVIEW WITH DR.SIMON
Hello. I’m Rob Dalton. Thank you for joining us today. We’re here with Dr. Paul Simon, the Director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Dr. Simon is here to talk to us about the problem of obesity in the United States.
Thank you for joining us, Dr. Simon.
Thank you. Glad to be talking with you.
Dr. Simon, let’s start with just how serious is the problem of obesity, and childhood obesity, here in the U.S.?
Well, Rob, obesity is a very serious problem. During the past several decades, obesity rates for all population groups have greatly increased. Nationally, approximately one out of three adults and one in six children are obese.
Out here in LA County, almost one quarter of adults and school-aged children are obese. And we see tremendous variation across different communities with especially high rates in poorer neighborhoods where one in three children are obese.
And we know from research that as weight increases into the “overweight” and “obese” ranges, the risks for serious health conditions and chronic diseases also increase.
Could you help us define when someone is considered to be obese?
Well, first of all, “obese” is a medical term. It means that a person’s weight is greater than what is considered healthy for a given height. “Obesity” weight ranges are determined by using height and weight to calculate a number called the “body mass index,” or BMI.
BMI can vary from one person to another based on their height. In adults, a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese and people who are in the obese category have been shown to be at increased risk for a whole host of health problems.
In children, the definition is a bit more complicated. It’s based on the child’s height and weight as well their age and gender.
Dr. Simon, why should everyday Americans and parents be so concerned about obesity?
Well there are many reasons why we should care about obesity.
First of all, it can lead to health problems that may result in reduced quality of life. Obesity can cause joint and muscle pain, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.
Also, obesity can lead to more serious health problems such a coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke.
It’s also important to remember that obesity is very costly. It costs money for individuals and families, as well as society as a whole.
The most recent CDC data show that medical costs associated with obesity are at about $147 billion a year. People who are obese pay about $1,500 more each year for their medical care than people with a healthy weight.
For children in particular, it’s important to address and reverse any unhealthy habits early in life to try and promote a healthier and more productive future for our children. We know that parents want the very best for their kids, and we want to create a healthier environment to help them do that.
You’re there in Los Angeles County Dr. Simon. What is your community doing to help prevent obesity?
Well, Rob, out here in Los Angeles County we’re working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a program called “Communities Putting Prevention to Work.” The goal is to combat obesity by making healthy living easier and creating more healthy places for our children and families to live, work, learn, and play.
There’s a lot going on out here, so I can just give you some of the highlights: We’re working very hard to make school lunches healthier, as well as making our communities safer for biking and walking. We’re also trying to equip people with information to make healthier choices by highlighting the amount of calories contained in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink.
So, you’re taking a community approach to this. What is unique about that community-based approach to tackling obesity?
That’s a very important question. Community-based approaches acknowledge that everyone has a personal responsibility to eat healthy and be active. But, these approaches also address the important role that our surroundings play in helping, or hurting, our health.
No one wants to become overweight, and weight gain is not just about people deciding to eat too many calories, or not exercising enough. It’s also because of complicated changes in our surroundings that have occurred over the past generation where unhealthy food is more readily available, in fact, almost present everywhere, and there are fewer opportunities for physical activity.
What do you say to people who think obesity is an individual issue that should be addressed by individual behavior changes, and not so much a community approach?
Well community-based approaches don’t replace individual responsibility. However, these approaches do play a critically important role in supporting individual behaviors.
We need to remember that many people live in neighborhoods that make it very difficult to be healthy. For example, neighborhoods where there is very limited access to healthy foods, and communities that are designed in ways that make it difficult to walk or bike instead of taking cars or busses, or in schools where there’s no physical education and children have limited opportunities for physical activity.
Dr. Simon, to be clear, this isn’t about the government looking for another avenue to create a “Nanny State”?
Absolutely not. CDC is supporting us in implementing initiatives that are based in our community, and unique to our community. The CPPW grants reflect the need to address some of these key contributors to health—the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age—which have been shown to have a profound effect on the health of individuals and communities.
So what is it that everyday people can do to support healthy changes in their neighborhoods and communities?
You know Rob, it takes a community to help make healthy living easier for everyone, but it can start with just one person. There are so many things people can do to help improve the places where they live, work, learn, and play. Just to give you a couple of examples:
• You can request healthy foods at restaurants and stores in your neighborhood.
• You can speak up for PE by telling your school board or the principal at your child’s school that kids need physical activity and physical education as a regular part of their school day.
Dr. Paul Simon, Director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you, Rob. It was my pleasure.