Fighting Obesity Is ‘At the Heart’ of Obama’s Plan to Provide Better and Lower-Cost Health Care

By Susan Jones | July 28, 2009 | 11:42 AM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (Photo by Penny Starr/

( - “President Obama and I are committed to delivering a health care system that provides all Americans with better quality and lower costs. And fighting obesity is at the heart of both of these goals,” Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.
With obesity reduction as the main goal, Sebelius said the Obama administration will “require” health insurance plans to cover some weight loss programs.
Congress appropriated $1 billion for prevention and wellness as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus law). On Tuesday, Sebelius announced that most of the money will be spent on a prevention initiative developed by the CDC and the Office of Public Health and Science.
“We aren’t ready to officially announce this initiative, but we expect that a significant amount of the money will go to help states and communities attack obesity and other public health challenges,” Sebelius said in remarks prepared for a CDC-sponsored “Weight of the Nation” conference.
“Reducing obesity -- especially for children -- would be one of the biggest steps we could take towards this better health future.”
Sebelius said HHS “will be looking for any chance we can get to partner with other agencies” such as the Education and Agriculture Departments – “to help Americans eat healthier and live healthier lives.”
According to the CDC, two thirds of American adults and almost one out of every five American children are obese or overweight, putting them at higher risk for heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
The CDC estimates that obesity costs the U.S. health system as much as $147 billion a year.
According to Sebelius, the Obama administration finally has a plan to reduce costs and waistlines.
She mentioned the need to offer more affordable, nutritious meals in public schools, child care centers, recreation centers, senior centers, and other government buildings. “The second thing we need to do is give people more healthy options in their own neighborhoods,” Sebelius said.
Sebelius stressed the need to make eating fruits and vegetables “convenient and affordable for all Americans.”
“Many rural Americans and urban Americans have the same problem: they don’t have any supermarkets that sell fresh produce where they live. When you can’t buy fresh produce, it’s hard to eat healthy.  One study found that the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten in African-American neighborhoods went up by a third for each supermarket you added.”
She also called for more physical education classes where kids “run around the whole time” rather than waiting around to use the same piece of equipment. “We need more investments in making cities safe for walking and biking.  We need more investments in public transportation.”
Sebelius said that everyone from parents to schools to local governments to food and beverage companies has a role to play in promoting prevention and wellness.
“It’s why we’re going to require health insurance plans to cover preventative services like the kind of counseling and care that can help people lose weight or keep the weight off in the first place,” she said.