Is Obesity America’s #1 Enemy?


Ever since Michelle Obama left the White House, it sometimes feels as if the subject of childhood obesity is no longer on the public’s radar screen. However, this seems not to hold true in Utah, where Deseret News is published. That newspaper’s Opinion page recently carried a piece titled “Obesity — America’s enemy No. 1.”

The author is Jake Steinfeld, chair of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils (NFGFC), whose mission is “to build a nation of the fittest, healthiest kids in the world.” Their National Fitness Champion campaign aims to award fitness centers to schools in every state. (So far, the number of states is up to 24.)

To pick a random example, this public relations material from the Wisconsin Governor’s office tells how the application process worked there in a recent year:

The National Fitness Champion campaign recognizes elementary and middle schools for demonstrating new and innovative ways of introducing physical activity and wellness into their curriculum… Three Wisconsin schools will be selected by the NFGFC as competition winners, each winning a $100,000 state-of-the-art fitness center for their efforts.

The good news is, NFGFC does not compete for scarce taxpayer dollars. The bad news is, since funding must come from somewhere, it comes from places like the Coca-Cola Company, which always causes at least a slight unease in many people’s minds.

On his bio page, Steinfeld is described as having created the personal fitness training industry, a claim that may or may not be contested by some other entrepreneur. He deserves a great deal of the credit for maintaining California’s reputation as a state where every resident is running around in jogging shorts all day long.

In the roles of fitness trainer, life coach, and lacrosse enthusiast, Steinfeld has published several books. In 2012 he was an Olympic torchbearer. His catchphrase is “Don’t quit!”

Fatal enemies

In 2016, the opioid epidemic killed at least 42,000 people that we know of because the CDC keeps track as best it can. In his op-ed piece, Steinfeld does not pussyfoot around his topic. He says:

This number is terrible and needs to be eradicated. But let me give you one more number that is mind blowing — 2.8 million. That’s the number of people who die annually from obesity related diseases. Obesity accounts for more than 1 in 5 American deaths…

Ramping up the severity of obesity is the fact that it’s linked to 60 chronic diseases… And the estimated health care costs in the United States are between $147 billion to $210 billion annually.

Steinfeld’s answer is exercise, and his arguments for the virtue of physical exertion are buttressed by anecdotal evidence — his own. That sounds like an attempt at condescension, but the opposite is intended. Few things in this world are more convincing than personal experience and a heartfelt testimonial.

Teetering on the edge of puberty, young Jake was a chubby stutterer with no self-confidence. His father bought him a set of free weights, which he made good use of and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

The formerly awkward kid learned that regular exercise not only streamlined his physique, but helped build mental concentration and other qualities that are advantageous in getting through school. Administrators have even discovered that schools with great fitness programs and facilities experience less absenteeism and fewer discipline problems.

Still, it might be prudent to stop short of endorsing a Steinfeld blanket statement that “obesity is preventable by making a few simple changes including diet and exercise.” If only that were universally true. As has been repeated here many times, childhood obesity is multi-factorial, and some of those factors have not been quite figured out yet.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Op-ed: Obesity — America’s enemy No. 1,”, 04/30/18
Source: “About Us,”
Source: “Governor Scott Walker Announces Partnership with The National Foundation For Governors’ Fitness Council,”, 03/23/16
Source: “Meet Jake,”
Photo credit: City of Boston Archives on Visualhunt/CC BY

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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