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Dr. Sienko: Obesity Report Should Prompt Action

Dr. Dean Sienko_1.jpg
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Michigan continues to face a serious health challenge. A closely watched annual report shows the percentage of people categorized as "obese" in the state continues to rise.

The annual "F As in Fat" report is a project of the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is an underwriter of NPR. The report forecasts the percentage would rise to 59% in less than 20 years.  

Obesity is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses.

WKAR’s Mark Bashore asked Dr. Dean Sienko to respond to the report.  Sienko is the founding associate dean for Prevention and Public Health at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.  He attributes the trend largely to deteriorating lifestyle habits.

DR. DEAN SIENKO:  Children spend nearly eight hours a day on what’s called ‘entertainment media:’ video games, television, computers. What a lot of kids do is they do their homework and they get on a video game. We’re putting more into our bodies in terms of calories, but we’re not burning the amount of calories we should be through physical activity.

MARK BASHORE:  At this amazing rate, over 59% of the state would be obese by the year 2030.  Do you expect to actually hit that number or do you see a slowdown ahead?

SIENKO:  I would like to be optimistic that the number will not hit such extreme projections. Nonetheless, the trajectory is very alarming. 

The state that tends to do the best in these metrics is Colorado.  People say the reason Colorado does so well is because it’s a very outdoors-focused place.  People get out.  They’re very physically active.  Michigan is a very beautiful state and it has a lot of opportunities for recreation throughout the year. We have to become more physically active.  We have to watch the things that we’re eating.  And if we don’t do these things, the numbers are going to go up.  Will they go up to 60% of the population being obese?  I don’t think so but I think the numbers could get worse and that will translate into any number of health problems for our population. 

BASHORE:  School lunches are getting somewhat healthier because of local, state and federal policy changes.  Do you see that as having much impact?

SIENKO:  I think certainly an improvement in the quality and wholesomeness in school lunches is an important step in this. Studies have shown that kids will eat healthy foods if they continue to have healthy foods put in front of them, and (if) there isn’t an alternative to go--easily--to a non-healthy food product.  So I think certainly that’s one step in this in terms of what students are consuming in schools.  Because we have to keep in mind (that among) adolescents and children who are obese—studies have shown 70% will likely become obese adults. 

BASHORE:  For years, we’ve heard there is no silver bullet to this obesity epidemic.  How do we at least slow these trends down?

SIENKO:  We all have to take some responsibility for our own health and the health of our loved ones.  But we also have to create the conditions in society that lead to a healthy lifestyle. People need places to be able to get out. They need parks.  We need access to healthy foods.  It’s a variety of things that are going to need to take place and it’s going to involve multiple sectors of society, not just the health sector.  The education sector is certainly involved.  The business sector is involved because this is hurting businesses and their economic competitiveness with the costs associated with all the health care.  We need urban planners. There’s just a number of folks who need to be a part of this solution because it is going to take a comprehensive effort to turn this around.

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