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Obesity Costs Soar, But Physical Burden Can Be Eased in Kids

The American College of Sports Medicine has calculated the number of steps required for children and teens to meet their daily exercise recommendation, offering a new tool in the fight against obesity. A study published in the May edition of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise calculated the correlation between step counts and physical activity time counts, equating 12,000 steps to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

The new tool offers a simple way to gauge and improve physical activity levels using only a pedometer, and creates an easy way for children to see their progress. "Daily physical activity goals are important not only to policy makers, but also to the well-being of the general public. This study proposes a new daily goal that is easy to measure with simple equipment," lead author Rachel Colley of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute said in an interview. "Step counts are something that children and teens can easily monitor themselves and use to work toward personal health goals."

The daily step recommendation comes at a time when increasing attention is being given not just to the health consequences of obesity but the financial costs, as well. According to a recent Reuters article, the additional medical spending due to obesity exceeds that of smoking, represented by increased hospitalizations, medical procedures and prescription drugs. A study in the January issue of Journal of Health Economics places the added medical spending due to obesity at $190 billion annually in the United States, borne not just by the obese but by all taxpayers, to cover the additional costs of Medicare and health insurance premiums.

The costs of obesity are also reflected in adjustments made to accommodate the increased percentage of obese Americans, which has tripled since the 1960s, currently at 34 percent. Seats on buses and in stadiums have gotten wider, as have hospital doors and wheelchairs. Because the incidence of health conditions is higher among obese people, workplace productivity takes a hit as well, with obese women taking 9.4 more sick days a year than average and men taking 5.9 more, according to calculations by health economists at Duke University.

The more subtle costs of obesity are seen in fuel consumption and pollution. A 2009 study comparing the current weight distribution of the population to that in the 1970s estimated that the added weight translates into 270 million more metric tons of greenhouse gases due to extra food production and 172 million tons of added fuel consumption.

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