Published July 31, 2002
WASHINGTON – America -- the land of plenty. And it shows.
An estimated 61 percent of people in the United States have dunlap's disease, as in: "their bellies' dun lapped over their belts."
Experts say obesity is sometimes genetic, but sometimes is the result of hormonal or chemical imbalances in the body.
And sometimes it is self-inflicted -- the result of too many Big Gulps or Big Macs or other food products that use the expression "Biggie," "Super-sized," "foot-long" or "double-decker" to describe quantity.
And while some people believe that fast-food restaurants are to blame -- last week a New York lawyer filed a class action suit against four fast-food companies claiming his clients didn't know their fast food contains a lot of fat -- lawmakers are trying to legislate the country out of its epidemic-sized problem.
"An epidemic we know is contributing significantly, substantially, to over 300,000 deaths a year," said Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician-legislator who this week authored the Improved National and Physical Activity Act.
IMPACT wants to help fight the battle of the bulge by giving health professionals more training on weight issues and paying for new parks, bike paths and recreational centers. At a cost of $200 million, it would also provide more money for nutrition programs in U.S. schools where today's kids are starting down the road to porkdom.
"We want to be sure that we are getting young people off to the right start to the extent that we can," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
Experts say the number of overweight children is growing rapidly. More than 13 percent of adolescents and 14 percent of teenagers are overweight or obese, according to the surgeon general's 1999 statistics.
And one lawmaker suggested television is partly to blame.
"When you see the number today of children sitting and watching television. Television has become the childcare provider," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
While lawmakers say they are doing their part to help contribute to healthy lifestyles, they acknowledge that they cannot legislate lifestyle choices.
"You don't see fat taxes or dictating exactly what happens in a vending machine in this bill-- that's not a part of it," Frist said.
Those who object to obesity legislation say many Americans are pleasant about being plump. Being fat is a choice for those who love double burgers with extra cheese.
"Where in the Constitution does it delegate this extraordinary power of the federal government? If we're going to tell people whether they are fat or not and have studies and advisories produced and trained doctors, if anything it should be done at the state or local level, certainly not at the federal," said Sam Ryan, an advocate for individual rights.
They also say some of the senators can take a lesson from their own legislation.
"Getting people to eat healthy?" one customer mused over the legislation at a Washington-based McDonald's. "I think half of them have to learn to eat healthy before they can vote on it. A lot of them are a lot bigger than a lot of people out here on the streets."
Fox News' Brian Wilson and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.