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To Slim an Obese Nation Think 5-2-1-0

As First Lady Michelle Obama was announcing her support of retail giant Walmart’s plan to reduce fats, sugars and salts in packaged foods, a federal report emphasized the magnitude of the nation’s weight problem.

We are getting heavier.

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On average, U.S. adults weigh 24 pounds more than they did in 1960.  And in that same time, obesity among children and teens has tripled, from nearly 5 percent to 15 percent.

Childhood obesity affects about 12.5 million and nearly 73 million adult men and women in the U.S. are obese.

The only good news in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention obesity report, published today in its monthly Grand Rounds series, is that our collective weight gain has leveled off in the last 10 years.

But the cost of our eating disorder has not. The CDC cites one study that estimates 9 percent of all U.S. medical costs in 2008 were obesity-related and amounted to $147 billion–compared with $78.5 billion 10 years before.

Obesity is a food safety issue because it puts people at increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. In the 1980s, type 2 diabetes among teenagers was virtually unheard of.  Today, 15 percent of new diabetes cases among children and adolescents are type 2 diabetes, the CDC notes.

The strategies needed to put the nation on a weight-loss plan are obvious, including reducing TV time and exposure to food marketing, eating less junk food and sugary drinks, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising.

Easier said than done, of course, so the CDC points to one effort that appears to be making a difference.

In 2004, pediatricians in Maine linked up with the Maine-Harvard Prevention Research Center, community groups and the state CDC office and began pushing a simple message: 5-2-1-0.

That stands for five or more fruits and vegetables a day, two hours or less screen time, one hour or more of physical activity and zero sugar drinks.

In 2006, local businesses and health-care leaders in Portland, ME, took up the crusade and spread the slogan in schools, child-care centers, after-school programs, medical settings and workplaces under a program called Let’s Go!

Tracking surveys indicate that more parents are now familiar with the four health principles and have shown a 27 percent in perceived behavior changes among children in three of the four targeted behaviors.

The visibility of programs like Maine’s, the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and retail efforts to increase access to healthy foods, “provide unparalleled opportunities to reverse the obesity epidemic,” the CDC said.

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