Obesity 'a threat' to U.S. security
Surgeon general urges cultural shift

Kim Severson, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

 An overweight America is killing itself with excess, and all that can save it is a major cultural transformation led by individuals and families, the U.S. surgeon general said Monday.

Speaking to more than 1,000 educators, doctors and public health officials in San Diego at the largest-ever conference on childhood obesity, Dr. Richard Carmona called obesity the fastest growing cause of illness and death in the United States and said it deserved more attention than any other epidemic.

"We need to lead a cultural transformation, and we can't let it be dwarfed by the other headlines of the day," he told the gathering.

The health implications in a country where two out of three adults are obese or overweight and the number of overweight kids has jumped by 50 percent in the decade are severe enough to threaten national security, he said.

"Our preparedness as a nation depends on our health as individuals," he said, noting that he had spent some of his first months in office working with military leaders concerned about obesity and lack of fitness among America's youth. "The military needs healthy recruits," he said.

He was, in many ways, preaching to the choir. The experts gathered for the conference, sponsored by the California Department of Health Services and UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, face the fallout of a fat nation on a daily basis. They have seen severe jumps in the frequency of stroke, heart disease and diabetes among adults and children.