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The Time to Address Childhood Obesity Is Now

There is perhaps no more serious challenge to the nation's health and well-being than that posed by childhood obesity. Last week, I testified about the issue before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP). I told our elected leaders that we need to change the national conversation on obesity, that we need to create healthier environments in our communities, and that government can't solve the problem alone.

Overall, the rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades and the problem is even worse among black, Hispanic, and Native American children. We have been working on this problem for some time. In 2001, former Surgeon General David Satcher issued The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. In it, he warned us about the negative effects that weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles were having on Americans' health and well-being.

I recently followed up on that report with my first paper: the Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. This paper lays out a foundation for national action to concretely respond to this public health problem.

Too often, the national discussion is a negative one focusing on obesity and illness. I want to change this conversation from a negative one about obesity and illness to a positive one about being healthy and staying fit. We need to stop bombarding Americans with messages about what they can't have and what they can't eat. We need to make exercise activities fun – something people will enjoy, something they want to do, such as playing sports, swimming, or simply taking a walk or going dancing just because they enjoy it.

For years, we have encouraged Americans to eat better, exercise regularly and maintain healthier lifestyles. But for these things to happen, Americans need to live and work in environments that support their efforts. There is a growing consensus that we, as a nation, need to create communities and environments where the healthy choices are the easy and the affordable choices.

To do this, we need everyone's help to support commonsense, innovative tools and solutions. We need to reach out to parents and teachers, and mobilize action and assistance across the federal government in partnership with governors and mayors, the medical community, leading foundations and the sports and business communities.

To become a healthy and fit nation, we must remember that Americans are more likely to change their behavior if they have a meaningful reward - something more than just reaching certain weight or a certain dress size.

The real reward has to be something that people can feel, enjoy, and celebrate.

People want to live long and live well, and they are making their voices heard across this nation. Make your voice heard by joining our movement. Sign up for email updates or become a fan of our Let's Move! Facebook page.