Obesity commission would tackled Missouri obesity statistics
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Obesity commission would tackled Missouri obesity statistics

Date: April 17, 2008
By: Rebecca Beitsch and Furqaan Sadiq
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 1834, HB 1824 & SB 991 and the CDC obesity map.

JEFFERSON CITY - At the same time when the Missouri legislature is considering bills that would make the ice cream cone the official dessert of the state of Missouri, one representative has introduced legislation that would create the Missouri Commission on Prevention and Management of Obesity.

While the obesity bill has languished in the legislature -- it's not even been given a committee assignment -- the ice cream cone has been on the fast track.

The ice cream cone bill is meant to recognize Missouri's historical invention of the ice cream cone at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair held in Forest Park. Both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill.

A study released by Trust for America's Health, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group for improvement in health, ranks Missouri as the 12th most obese state in 2007 -- up from 14th the year before.  

The ice cream cone bill raises some questions. What type of ice cream will it be? Cake cone or sugar cone? One scoop or two? The two Senate sponsors say they like sugar cone and two scoops.  But Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, said he is more of a butter pecan kind of guy, while Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said he will take anything with chocolate. 

 

The obesity bill would create an agency, however, responsible for answering questions about obesity and its barriers of prevention.

 

The commission would fall under the responsibility of the state Health Department and would include 22 members from organizations throughout the state. The commission would be responsible for gathering data on obesity, determining the economic impact, and improving health in schools.

 

Rep. Craig Bland, D-Kansas City, the bill's sponsor, cited increased rates in heart attacks, strokes, and type 1 and 2 diabetes as the inspiration for the bill. "We need more information and seminars about the effects of what obesity can do to you if you don't change your lifestyle. We need more studies in the state so people can understand the importance of obesity."

 

Bland is continuing the legacy of battling the state's obesity and health problems that his mother, Mary Bland, tackled before she was forced out of office by term limits.

 

Bland's concerns are not with out merit. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the national Department of Health and Human Services, ranks Missouri as 10th in the nation in terms of the number of heart attack deaths and 13th worst in stroke mortality rates.

 

Loudon, one of the ice cream bill sponsors, said he takes Missouri's health seriously. Never a fan of mandates, the senator said he would even strongly support passing legislation that would encourage physical fitness in schools but said he is not concerned his bill will cause Missourians to ignore their health in favor of ice cream.

 

Missouri is just a small part of the overall trends in obesity. Not a single state experienced a decrease in obesity rates in the past two years. There was an increase in the adult obesity level in 31 states in 2007. Even Colorado, famed as being the leanest state, had an increase from 16.9 to 17.6 percent.

 

The study responsible for the state rankings, titled F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing America, has been published each year since 2004 and aims to make legislators and the public more aware of the danger of obesity. "This is not an appearance thing," said Laura Segal, TFAH's Director of Public Affairs. "This isn't about self esteem. This is about making people aware of the real health dangers and costs of obesity."  

 

Bigger belt lines have even traveled to Europe, a continent that many Americans have regarded has enjoying a healthier lifestyle and as quality of food.  But in Europe too, health experts report rising weights.

 

Children are not immune to obesity trends either. In the same study by TFAH, Missouri was ranked 15th in the rate of overweight youths, ages 10 to 17. Missouri is not one of the 17 states that requires school meals to meet higher nutritional standards than the USDA, a factor the organization stresses.

 

Bland's bill does include language to address a healthy school nutrition environment.Measures could include nutrition education in class, healthier meal options, and efforts to create a pleasant eating experience so that children can relax, eat, and socialize, without feeling rushed.