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What Can We Do To Stop Obesity In this Country?

Aired July 30, 2003 - 19:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A remarkable statistic that.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson met today with American researchers and scientists as part of his effort to fight what he calls an epidemic of obesity. Some of the suggestions included a national walking program, better food labeling, and even a new obesity institute as part of the National Institutes of Health. Question is will any of this work? Joining us now to talk about it from Washington is Secretary Thompson. Secretary Thompson, thanks for being with us. We have heard so much...

TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Thank you very much for having the program, Anderson. It's very much appreciated.

COOPER: We've heard so much in the last couple weeks and months about lawsuits against fast food restaurants, against makers of high fat foods. Personally, who do you think is responsible for what you call the epidemic of obesity? Is it individuals or corporations?

THOMPSON: It's the individuals. The individuals have got to learn how to eat properly and to make sure their diet is complete with fruits and vegetables, and they have to learn how to exercise. You know, we can point our fingers at everybody else, but it's really ourselves that eat too much and are not doing enough physical activities outside, especially our children.

COOPER: If it is -- if it is a matter of individuals than, what can government do about it? I mean other than the power of the bully pulpit which you have, what can you do?

THOMPSON: We can do a lot of things. We can start educating children at a younger age in school, get more information out there, we can be much more friendly to our -- those individual consumers as far as labeling is concerned. We can teach people how to read the labels correctly. We can encourage industry, which they are very eager, I think, to respond, to get healthier foods on their shelves as well as get more restaurants and fast food industry to be able to have healthier foods on their menus.

All of these things can lead to a lot of successes because it only takes, you know, 30 minutes of exercise a day and lose five to ten pounds and you can improve the quality of health considerably for each of us as American.

COOPER: Well, I know already you have met with insurance industry leaders, you've recommended them giving breaks to people who lose weight or maintain their healthy weights. I know you've met already with food industry leaders encouraging them, as you said, to come out with healthier foods, healthier alternatives. Today you're meeting with researchers, scientists. What have you learned?

THOMPSON: Well I've learned that we have a huge problem. 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. It's costing us $155 billion a year and 300,000 Americans are dying each and every year because of the fact we eat too much and have become very sedentary in our lifestyles. The researchers, one particular, Jim Hill, from Colorado, says why don't we start a national program in which everybody will walk an additional 2,000 steps a day and reduce their calorie intake by 100 calories a day and we'll able to get America much healthier.

COOPER: Now I've heard you carry around a pedometer with you measuring your own steps, is this true?

THOMPSON: I do. I have it with me every single day. I'll show it to you right and I would encourage everybody to have one.

COOPER: Actually if you could hold it up a little bit we could actually see it.

THOMPSON: I'm sorry.

COOPER: So what, you actually count the steps you take?

THOPMSON: Count the steps, I try and do 10,000 steps a day which is equivalent to 30 minutes of good hard exercise, and it's something that every American can do. And it's fun because it becomes addictive. You can look at it throughout the day an say I'm only up to 2,000 or 3,000 steps and I have to it something.

COOPER: How many have you done today? How many steps have you done today?

THOMPSON: Well, I have to look. I haven't checked recently. I've been in the White House. I have 6,000. I have 4,000 more to go today.

COOPER: Alright, well you have a lot ahead of you. Secretary Tommy Thompson appreciate you joining us to tell us about your latest efforts. Appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

COOPER: I've walked like ten steps today.

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