Supervisors Balk at Funding for Obesity Programs

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Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach and U.S. President Barack Obama. Moorlach will be a big player in how Obama's healthcare law is implemented in Orange County. (Photo illustration: Kenny Rivera)

Monday, June 27, 2011 | The Orange County Board of Supervisors — in the same week that the National Academies of Sciences declared more than 20 percent of young children in the U.S. overweight or obese — balked at applying for millions in federal dollars to fight obesity at the local level.

Why? Because at least two board members don't want to be linked to Obamacare.

The board was asked for permission to apply for a five-year, $10-million federal grant to help county and local organizations educate residents about sound nutrition and preventing obesity. The grant would also promote anti-smoking efforts.

The board almost voted against letting county health officials apply for the grant, but instead supervisors agreed to discuss it again at Tuesday's meeting. Only four of the five supervisors were present at the time, and three supervisors will have to vote in favor for the county to apply for the grant.

The grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would cover quitting smoking, active living, healthful eating and prevention and control of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The grant also would provide for "social and emotional wellness, such as facilitating early identification of mental health needs" and healthful, safe physical environments.

"It appears to be kind of a nanny state, Obamacare program," said Supervisor Shawn Nelson. "Obamacare" is the name President Obama's opponents use to describe the new national health care program. Nelson is a Republican candidate for Congress next year.

Added Supervisor Pat Bates: "It troubles me that with the limited funds that we do have that the new health care reform plan, Obamacare, is taking existing resources and starting to spread them out amongst programs that seem to be quite redundant and not necessary. If you look at the state of California, we have a number of programs that address these very issues."

But Health Care Agency Director David Riley told the board "the obesity rates are at epidemic level, much higher than what they been in previous generations.

"We're looking at the kids who were born 10 years ago and today are going to have a shorter life span than the current generation," he added. "Our purpose in applying for these funds is to try to work with the community to develop programs that we think could reduce obesity, that could encourage healthy eating, that could encourage exercise."

Lack of Healthful Diets and Exercise

According to the county staff report on the grant application, "approximately 60 percent of deaths in Orange County are the consequence of heart disease, cancers, and strokes. The chronic diseases associated with these deaths are commonly the result of smoking, poor diet, and inadequate physical activity."

The Institute of Medicine report released late last week said that nationwide, young children are spending more time watching television and playing video games and less time doing physical activities. In addition, it said, it's important for families to have access to healthful food.

Two supervisorial districts, the central western county area represented by Supervisor Janet Nguyen and Nelson's North County district, are generally park poor, meaning they don't have enough open space for children to run and play. Much of Supervisor John Moorlach's district, which lies in the northwestern part of the county, also lacks adequate park space.

Nguyen, who supported the grant application, said afterward that cutting obesity rates among both children and adults would save taxpayers money because it would reduce emergency room visits.

She said heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and other illnesses associated with obesity often require emergency treatment, but health insurance doesn't cover the full cost of emergency services. That leaves taxpayers to pick up the tab.

"We have to deal with the [obesity] issue now," she said. "If we don't look at the issue now, we're going to be spending 10 times more" down the road.

Polls in recent months show Californians split along party lines about how serious obesity is as a health issue and what should be done about it.

A majority of Democrats and Republicans, as well as those with no party affiliation, see obesity as a "very serious" health issue.

But 62 percent of Democrats say obesity is both an individual and government responsibility while 63 percent of Republicans say it's an individual responsibility, according to a Public Policy Institute survey.

The Field Poll showed similar results. According to its findings, 59 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of those with no party affiliation or who belonged to "other" parties said childhood obesity is the responsibility of the entire community.

Just 29 percent of Republicans saw childhood obesity as a community responsibility, according to the Field Poll, while 58 percent of the GOP responders considered it a personal issue.

"I believe in personal responsibility," said Nguyen. But, she added, it's not always easy for families to know what foods are healthful.

Nelson said it is easy to know that smoking is bad for you. "We're going to remind people to stop smoking, as if we don't have billions of dollars already dedicated to that cause."

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

 

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