Legislative Briefs: Government actions on obesity

A wide spectrum of government programs, including those geared toward promoting physical activity and addressing the obesity epidemic, are poised for budget cuts this summer.

Potential cuts are looming for transportation spending, such as money for walking and cycling paths. And reductions have become reality for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which funds Prevention Research Centers across the country.

But even in a difficult budget environment, health-promotion and physical-activity programs are essential for children, communities and governments, said Margo Pedroso, Deputy Director of the Safe Routes to School national partnership, a network of nonprofits, professionals and government agencies.

The Safe Routes to School partnership evolved out of local movements in the late 1990s and early 2000s to create safer pedestrian paths for school children. Though Safe Routes to School has not been specifically named as a target for cuts, members in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are calling for significant reductions in overall transportation spending.

For instance, a proposal released by U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., in July would approve spending of about $35 billion annually over six years for transportation, which is a 35-percent cut from current spending levels.

But the details of Mica's bill, as well as others, are not expected to be inked until after Congress reconvenes from its August recess, Pedroso said. "So we're left to guess," she said.

So far, the proposal states non-motorized transportation projects, such as sidewalks and bike lanes, are not needed, Pedroso said. It still gives states some flexibility to choose whether to fund non-motorized transportation, but it also says states cannot divert money from roads and bridges to do so.

"To me, what it does is send a signal to states that discourages them from funding these projects," Pedroso said.

Thomas Frieden, Director of the federal CDC, told The Washington Post in June that budget cuts and staff reductions are the biggest challenges facing his agency. CDC's budget was cut by $740 million between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011, Frieden told the newspaper. That translates to an 11-percent reduction in the CDC's budget authority and the lowest budget authority the agency has had since fiscal year 2003.

The program that funds the Prevention Research Centers, a budget of roughly $34 million, is also in jeopardy of getting cut now and in the future. Across the country, the program supports 37 centers that collaborate with community groups, health-care organizations, public-health agencies governments and businesses to develop and conduct research promoting the wide use of practices shown to promote good health.

The Tulane PRC, established in 1998, focuses on addressing the physical and social environmental factors influencing the obesity epidemic through community-based participatory research, community outreach and educational trainings for public-health professionals, policymakers and community members.

To contact federal lawmakers about these and other issues, visit www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.

Topics:   obesity , policy , community health , built environment

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