Contact: Cindy Karra -- 202-974-5009

Dr. C. Everett Koop Takes To the Airwaves To Speak Candidly About Obesity

Washington, DC; May 20, 1996 -- Known for speaking out on issues affecting the public health, Dr. C. Everett Koop -- the former U.S. Surgeon General -- is taking to the airwaves to talk candidly about two of the major causes of preventable deaths in this country: obesity and inactivity.

As part of his anti-obesity campaign called Shape Up America!, Dr. Koop plays a starring role in new public service spots that will inform Americans of the health importance of weight control and increased physical activity. The spots, in :60, :30 and :20 second versions, are being distributed to the public service directors of the national television networks and 200 local television stations with a personal appeal from Dr. Koop to "get out the word that combating obesity in America cannot wait."

The impetus for this public service advertising campaign is mounting evidence that the United States is experiencing an unprecedented epidemic of obesity among both adults and children. It is now estimated that 58 million American adults -- 32 million women and 26 million men -- are obese or overweight, which is a third (33 percent) of the U.S. population. Further, childhood obesity rates have been rising steadily over the last decade, with 22 percent of children ages 6 to 17 years old now severely overweight or obese.

"As a physician who believes in speaking plainly about major issues affecting the public health, I am concerned that too many Americans are at an unhealthy weight and, as a result, will suffer serious illness and an early death," Dr. Koop wrote in his letter to television public service directors. "Next to smoking, which causes approximately 400,000 preventable deaths annually, the conditions related to obesity and inactivity are the second leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in about 300,000 lives lost each year," he added.

Reminding Americans of Dr. Koop’s earlier efforts as Surgeon General to warn the public about the dangers of smoking, the public service spots use archival footage of Dr. Koop and then feature him as a private citizen speaking out about the health risks of overweight and inactivity. The spots further combat the stereotype that overweight is strictly an appearance problem by telling Americans "that the impact goes far beyond how people think they should look. The real results are serious diseases and disabling conditions that can be prevented."

These statements are based on the widespread scientific consensus that overweight and inactivity are directly linked to five of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. -- heart disease, diabetes, stroke, atherosclerosis, and some forms of cancer. In addition, obesity is associated with osteoarthritis, gout and a number of mental health problems that can be very detrimental. For these reasons, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates the cost of obesity at $100 billion annually.

To encourage Americans to lose weight and become more physically active, the spots feature a toll-free telephone number that people can call to get practical information on sensible eating, physical activity, and how to lose a few pounds. The hotline -- 888 U-SHAPE-IT -- will connect callers to the Shape Up America! Clearinghouse, a new information and referral service which the campaign is now operating on a 24-hour a day basis.

The PSA campaign will run on television stations throughout May, June and July.