Bill Richardson Vows to Confront Nation's Obesity Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C.-- New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Bill Richardson today vowed to confront the American obesity crisis head-on as President. Governor Richardson made the pledge during a speech to the Obesity Society's Public Policy Conference "The Obesity Challenge: What the Next President Should Do" in Washington, D.C.

"Obesity and related chronic diseases are a major cause of high health care costs, and we need to address the root of the problem," Richardson said. "Nearly 200 million Americans-- two-thirds of our population-- now are considered overweight or obese, and millions are suffering from related illnesses that require treatment which costs at least $97 billion per year. As a country, we need to have a long-term vision based on education and prevention, not just treatment. As President, fighting obesity will be one of my top priorities."

Governor Richardson was the only 2008 Presidential candidate to attend the conference. He told conference attendees that fighting obesity begins with providing affordable, quality health care for every American. Richardson released his plan for universal health care in early August.

"Our first step must be to make sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health coverage," Richardson said. "My plan provides a reasonable, common sense path to achieve that. It focuses on the three critical issues of coverage, cost, and care and builds on proven programs that already work for millions of Americans. Under my plan, working families and small businesses will be able to purchase the same coverage that members of Congress and the President have, and those aged 55 to 64 will be able to purchase coverage through Medicare. Every American will be required to have coverage, and employers will pay their fair share of employee health care costs."

Richardson's health plan would ensure coverage of proven preventive services, such as intensive weight loss counseling. The plan also would support schools, workplaces, and communities in increasing opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating. Richardson detailed concrete steps that he would take to combat obesity.

"We need to dramatically boost our research efforts associated with obesity," Richardson said. "Our next President must take a prominent and public role, joining in your efforts to increase the public's understanding of obesity and remove the stigma. We must also eliminate discrimination against those who are overweight. Perhaps the most critical part of what our next President must do is to drastically shift our focus to education and prevention, targeted directly at children and their parents."

Richardson not only has a vision for the change that is needed, he has the experience to make it happen, as he has done as Governor of New Mexico.

"In New Mexico, we have regulated vending machines in schools, and we have worked to ensure that children have access to a healthy breakfast," Governor Richardson said. "We got the junk food out of our schools and we are putting physical education back in. It is working. Last year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked New Mexico 2nd in the nation for food availability and 4th in the nation for nutrition policy."

In New Mexico, Richardson also has doubled the number of school-based health centers, which can play an important role in the prevention of childhood obesity.