Just days after the U.S. Surgeon General declared that the nation is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, Congress gave final approval, Thursday, for funds that U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., added for a new Center on Obesity at West Virginia University.

“Across the United States, the Surgeon General reports that 62 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, compared with only 48 percent in 1980. In fact, obesity effects nearly one in five children. We can no longer ignore the health risks related to obesity,”Byrd said.”The Surgeon Generals warning should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans that obesity poses great dangers to ones health, and that we need to take steps to live healthier lifestyles,”Byrd said.

“The new Center on Obesity at West Virginia University (WVU) will work with community groups, schools, and medical professionals to find innovative ways to reduce obesity and improve our health,”Byrd stated. In West Virginia, the prevalence of obesity has been among the highest in the country in 14 of the past 15 years. In fact, the incidence of obesity in West Virginia has trended upward from 25.7 percent of the adult population in 1984 to the present high of 43 percent.

“The Center on Obesity will allow us to target a problem that is at the root of many of the health problems prevalent in West Virginia,”said Robert D’Alesssandri, vice president for health sciences at WVU .”We already have considerable expertise in this area, and this funding will enable us to launch efforts that promise to make a real difference on a statewide scale.”

“Ironically, the prevalence of obesity increases even in the face of broad publicity about the problem, tremendous social pressure to be thin, and a $33 billion a year weight control industry in the United States,”Byrd added.

Obesity has been associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, hypertension, high blood cholesterol, gallbladder disease, respiratory disease, and arthritis. Researchers estimate that 325,000 deaths in the U.S. each year can be attributed to obesity. The annual health care costs related to obesity are estimated to be $100 billion. This figure represents approximately $52 billion in direct medical costs and $48 billion in indirect expendituresa total that comprises almost six percent of annual U.S. health care costs.

Byrd also successfully restored the Administrations proposed cut in the Center for Disease Controls nutrition, physical activity, and obesity program. As a result of Byrds efforts, the Fiscal Year 2002 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations bill includes $24.6 million for these efforts. The Senator also included $950,000 for the federal Institute of Medicine (IOM) to develop an action plan to decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity.The IOM is a part of the National Academy of Sciences.