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Representative population surveys have found significant increases in the prevalence of obesity in U.S. children and youth. In 2000, childhood obesity was two to three times more common than in the early 1970s. Certain subpopulations of children, including those in several ethnic minority populations, in low-socioeconomic-status families, and in the southern region of the United States, tend to be most affected. Furthermore, there are particular concerns that the heaviest children are becoming heavier (i.e., a skewing of the population BMI distribution).

Obesity can have adverse impacts on a child's physical, social, and emotional well-being. It increases the incidence of type 2 diabetes and other chronic medical and psychosocial conditions. Furthermore, the metabolic and physiologic changes associated with childhood obesity, along with obesity itself, tend to track into adult life and eventually increase the individual's risk of disease, disability, and death.

Poor diet and physical inactivity contributed to an estimated 400,000 deaths that occurred in the U.S. population in 2000 (Mokdad et al., 2004); predictions indicate that diet and physical inactivity will ultimately overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death in the future. Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth were estimated to have more than tripled over a two-decade period, rising from $35 million (1979-1981) to $127 million (1997-1999).7 Meanwhile, after adjusting for inflation and converting estimates to 2004 dollars, the national direct and indirect healthcare expenditures related to adult obesity and overweight range from $98 billion to $129 billion. These figures clearly implicate obesity as a major determinant of health-care costs.

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