- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Advocates of using news laws to compel Americans to lose weight say most state legislatures are earning only average marks for their efforts to enact obesity-related legislation.

Most states, including Virginia, scored C’s for their proposals, according to a new study released today by the University of Baltimore.

The second annual obesity report card, which tracked state obesity-related bills, is meant to spur state lawmakers to pass far-reaching laws concerning obesity awareness, nutrition access and exercise, said Kenneth Stanton, a co-author and finance professor at the university.

Tom Schatz, president for a Washington taxpayer watchdog, argued that states should not spend more on an issue that he called “mostly a personal-responsibility matter.”

“Obesity should not be used to make government programs fatter,” said Mr. Schatz of the Citizens Against Government Waste.

The report card gave B’s to 11 states, including Maryland, C’s to 23 states and D’s to 11. Five states flunked for failing to take any action, with no state earning an A. The District of Columbia was not included in the study.

“I think we saw some superficial efforts to do something about obesity,” Mr. Stanton said yesterday, noting that 23 states failed in the 2004 obesity report card.

Maryland has introduced bills establishing standards for nutrition and physical education in schools that have not been passed, Mr. Stanton said. Virginia has enacted a bill supporting obesity research.

However, the report card did not determine if state obesity-related laws have any effect. Mr. Stanton said the laws have not been in place long enough to provide real results.

He projected more state bills will address childhood obesity, with efforts to limit or restrict vending-machine access in schools and require time for exercise and recess at school.

The obesity report card comes a day after another report found that the prevalence of obesity is growing three times faster among Americans who make more than $60,000 per year.

The report, released yesterdayby the American Heart Association, said obesity rates for the higher-income group surged to 26.8 percent from 2001 to 2002. The rate was at 9.7 percent from 1971 to 1974.

People making less than $25,000 annually had an obesity rate of 32.5 percent from 2001 to 2002, up from 22.5 percent from the period of 1971 to 1974, according to the study from the Dallas health advocacy organization.

“Income doesn’t protect you from being obese anymore,” said Dr. Jennifer Robinson, co-author of the study and epidemiology professor at the University of Iowa.

Wealthier Americans are increasingly obese because they work more hours in sedentary jobs and have longer commutes, which takes away from potential exercise time, Dr. Robinson said.

Additionally, they rely on calorie-laden fast food and restaurant fare for many of their daily meals.

Studies have found that the poor, especially those living in inner cities, have a high rate of obesity, partly because many buy cheaper, high-starch foods instead of more expensive fruits and vegetables.

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