March 13, 2009

Nutrition Programs Do Not Lead to Obesity Epidemic

The USDA on Thursday reported that it could make no connection between an obesity epidemic and the $73 billion food stamp program of fiscal 2009.

Critics of the Agriculture Department's point to the massive amount of funding going toward food stamps as an indicator of the world's obesity crisis.

"USDA is not aware of any convincing evidence that school meals or other federal nutrition programs cause obesity and overweight. The evidence that does exist is mixed," Thomas O'Connor, USDA's acting deputy undersecretary for nutrition, told a House Appropriations subcommittee.

The plan is expected to cover some 61 million Americans, but the recent recession has inflated that amount.

The latest figures show that an unprecedented 31.8 million people are receiving food stamps.

Some 32 percent of children in the US are defined as overweight, while 16 percent are considered to be obese.

Obesity among children can lead to more serious health risks during their youth as well as through adulthood as they are at an increased risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.

Obesity could carry large nationwide implications as it could burden the health care system with medical costs associated with overweight and obesity involving more direct costs and indirect costs, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Direct costs would
include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity, while indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs.

Kelly Brownell, a professor at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told Reuters that the evidence did not suggest a link between food programs and obesity.

"I believe it comes up in the context of critics of these programs using this as an excuse for wanting to cut back," he said.

According to a US study, national costs attributed to both overweight and obesity medical expenses accounted for 9.1 percent of total US medical expenditures in 1998 and may have reached as high as $78.5 billion, said the CDC.

US President Barack Obama has set a 2015 deadline to end childhood hunger through a plan that add $1 billion per year to child nutrition funding.


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