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Can MN Drop Pounds with Politics?

January 19, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota has a reputation as a national leader for positive policy changes. However, in the area of physical activity for kids, the state ranks near the bottom. While the number of obese children in Minnesota has hit a plateau, doctors say it's still too high.

Dr. Howell Wechsler, director, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says kids are responding to their environment: fattening foods and less physical activity. Minnesota state policy isn't helping them, he adds: There are no current state nutrition standards for nutritious food in schools, or standards and graduation requirements for physical education.

"We're not going to turn the corner on this problem until we reshape the environment in which are children are living. And it doesn't have to be; it's not impossible - clearly we seem to be making some progress."

Nationwide, 17 percent of kids are obese, Wechsler says, a number that has tripled since 1980. It's the topic of a special hearing today at the state Capitol, where lawmakers will examine possible legislative solutions. The American Heart Association Midwest Chapter played a major role in getting the recommendations presented.

The task force options include "complete streets" legislation to encourage cycling and walking, as well as adopting state P.E. standards and supporting a farm-to-table nutrition program.

Rep. Kim Norton (D-Rochester) serves on the task force. She says it's up to the state to take the lead in helping kids get healthier.

"It is time that state leaders step up and look at policies that can change the trend from growing obesity to flat-lining and actually decreasing obesity in our children - and therefore our adults - which will give a positive impact to health care costs."

According to Norton, state health care expenses related to obesity have topped about $1 billion a year.

The children's obesity study is at www.cdc.gov.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN