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WASHINGTON - The obesity epidemic in America may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths, Surgeon General David Satcher warned today. He looked to schools, the fast-food industry and communities to eat healthier and exercise more.
Around 300,000 people a year die from illnesses directly caused or worsened by being overweight. Some 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese, as are nearly 13 percent of children, rates that have steadily risen over the past decade.
Satcher called for a national attack on obesity like the one federal health officials declared on smoking. He recommends daily physical education for every grade in schools, healthier food choices in schools, safer playing areas for children, more physical activity provided by employers, and healthier portion sizes. In addition, inner cities are encouraged to study fast-food marketing practices and find ways to offer affordable fruits and vegetables.
The National Restaurant Association rejected as "simplistic" the idea that fast-food joints cause obesity, and the National Soft Drink Association urged more focus on Satcher's exercise recommendations, calling vending machines in schools adequately regulated.
The Agriculture Department has targeted childhood obesity as a major concern and will take some action, though just what hasn't been decided, said Ron Vogel of the special nutrition program. Officials are helping schools to improve lunch nutrition. While USDA has authority to restrict use of vending machines only if they are in cafeterias, it is considering whether to seek broader authority.