higher for Latino teenage boys, at 11.2 percent, and for African American girls, at 12 percent (Koebnick et al., 2010).
Low-income families in every racial, ethnic, and gender group also have higher obesity rates. Sher acknowledged that the relationship between obesity and poverty is a complex one. However, “food deserts” (urban areas without access to fresh, healthy, and affordable fruits and vegetables) are one major reason for the linkage between impoverishment and obesity in disadvantaged areas. More than 23 million Americans—6.5 million of them children—live in low-income neighborhoods that are more than a mile from markets with access to fresh foods. This means that those communities that can least afford fresh foods end up bearing the brunt of the costs associated with obesity. Food insecurity and experiences of hunger among children in the United States are even more widespread, Sher said. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that 17 million households experienced hunger multiple times throughout the year (Nord et al., 2009).
Obesity is also associated with more chronic conditions than either smoking or excessive drinking, said Sher, and by 2020 the United States is projected to spend over $343 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity. Today, spending attributable to obesity is approximately $150 billion.
However, the costs of obesity and obesity-related diseases are more than simply financial in nature. Obese people are more likely to experience social disengagement and have fewer opportunities in education and the workforce. Obese children tend to become sad, lonely, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Other data indicate that children’s body mass index (BMI) and level of physical activity within the school day affect their academic performance in both reading and math. Sher noted that the obesity problem has reached “epidemic proportions.”
In response to the obesity epidemic, Sher highlighted First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to solve the problem of childhood obesity. As a mother struggling to balance a healthy lifestyle with her family’s hectic schedule, Mrs. Obama is committed to reaching the national target of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation. Let’s Move is a comprehensive collaborative and community-oriented initiative that includes strategies to address the various factors that lead to childhood obesity (The White House, 2010). By fostering collaboration among leaders in government, science, business, education, athletics, and community