Topeka — Reducing obesity in the United States is going to require a commitment similar to the Civil Rights movement or anti-drunk driving efforts, a former high ranking federal health official said Thursday.
"It is going to take years to reverse this epidemic," said Dr. William Dietz, past director of the division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Speaking to about 200 people at the Kansas Summit on Obesity, Dietz said many fail to see obesity as a threat or they consider it as someone else's problem.
He said the country needs an "emotional engagement" to fight obesity, similar to the struggle for civil rights and the efforts by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We need that passion," he said.
In Kansas, nearly two thirds of adults and a fourth of adolescents were classified as overweight or obese. Nationally, in 1991, no state had an obese population of more than 19 percent. Now, no state has less than 20 percent obese, Dietz said.
Gov. Sam Brownback urged people trying to lose weight, "Don't give up."
"You don't have to be in bondage to your obesity. It's going to be a struggle," Brownback said.
He recommended that individual Kansans figure out what strategy works best.
Brownback said that during meals, he stops eating when he is still "just a little bit hungry." He said sometimes when he and his family go out to eat, he sometimes splits an order with his wife, or doesn't order but eats off his childrens' plates. "They don't like it, but I'm paying," he quipped.
When he first went to college at Kansas State University, Brownback said he gained 15 pounds in one month and quickly had to adjust his eating habits.
Dietz said that nationally, healthy foods have to be more readily available, and people need to reduce screen time, replace sugary drinks with water and exercise more.
"Physical activity is a magic drug that we should employ for everyone," he said.