White House Task Force Seeks Fight on Childhood Obesity
Posted by Peter Maer
First lady Michelle Obama shakes hands with students after a discussion on childhood obesity, Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
(Credit: AP) A White House report warns, “The childhood obesity epidemic in America is a national health crisis.”
The review by the Task Force on Childhood Obesity says one out of every three children is overweight or obese. The task force is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. President Obama ordered the comprehensive review of the issue.
The report includes familiar themes, emphasizing the importance of improved nutrition and physical activity. It also calls for some new and dramatic controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods.
The task force wants junk food makers and marketers to go on what amounts to an advertising diet. It says media characters that are often popular with kids should only be used to promote healthy products. If voluntary efforts fail to limit marketing of less healthy products to young viewers, the task force suggests the FCC should consider new rules on commercials in children’s programming. It also challenges food retailers to stop using in-store displays to sell unhealthy food items to children.
The advisory panel proposes better food content labeling on products and vending machines. Restaurants and vending machine companies are urged to display calorie counts. The experts say the FDA and USDA should cooperate with the food and beverage industries to develop a standard system of nutrition labeling on the front of packages. The study also suggests that restaurants should re-evaluate portion sizes, improve kids’ menus and list more healthy food choices.
The White House study says school systems should consider efforts to promote healthier food in cafeterias. One idea: “swap deep fryers for salad bars.”
In a proposal that’s sure to be popular with children, the panel says schools should promote recess for younger students and “physical activity breaks” for upper level grades.
The task force also sees a potential pocketbook approach to keep people from buying unhealthy foods. It calls for analyzing the effect of imposing state and local sales taxes on less healthy products.
The report found one out of every three children is overweight or obese, conditions that increase their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer in their lifetimes. The cost of treating obesity-related ailments is estimated to be $150 billion per year.
The task force concludes that strategies listed in the report “should” achieve the goal of solving the childhood obesity problem within a generation. It concedes it won’t be easy.