May 13 2010

White House Task Force on Obesity reports in

This report, Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within A Generation, is a terrific summary of where we stand today on childhood obesity (“the challenge we face”) and what to do about it. The report wants to reduce rates of child obesity to where they were before all this started:

That means returning to a childhood obesity rate of just 5% by 2030. Achieving this goal will require “bending the curve” fairly quickly, so that by 2015, there will be a 2.5% reduction in each of the current rates of overweight and obese children, and by 2020, a 5% reduction.

This seems so modest that it might actually be achievable.

Like most such plans, this one has way too many recommendations, in this case, 70 (the summary table starts on page 89).  These are divided up in categories.  For example:

Recommendations for early childhood

  • Educate and help women conceive at a healthy weight and have a healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Encourage and support breastfeeding
  • Prioritize research into chemicals in the environment that may cause or worsen obesity
  • Educate and support parents in efforts to reduce kids’ TV and media time
  • Improve nutrition and physical activity practices in child nutrition programs.

For empowering parents and caregivers:

  • Government should work with local communities to promote the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the 2010 food pyramid.
  • USDA and FDA should work with the food and beverage industry to develop standard nutrition labels for packages.
  • Restaurants and vending machines should display calorie counts of all items offered.
  • The food and beverage industry should extend its voluntary self-regulation to restrict all forms of marketing to children. If this does not happen, federal regulation should be considered
  • Media and entertainment companies should limit licensing of popular characters to healthy food and beverage products
  • Insurance plans should cover services needed to help prevent, assess, and care for child obesity.

For healthier food in schools

  • Update federal standards for school meals and improve the nutritional quality of USDA foods provided to schools.
  • Increase funding for school meals.
  • Encourage schools to upgrade cafeteria equipment to support healthier foods. Example: Swap deep fryers for salad bars.
  • Connect school meal programs to local growers and encourage farm-to-school programs.
  • Improve nutritional education in schools and make it more available.
  • Increase the use of school gardens to educate about healthy eating.
  • Promote healthy behaviors in juvenile correction facilities.

For improving access to healthy foods

  • Launch a multi-agency “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” to make healthy foods more available in underserved urban and rural communities.
  • Encourage local governments to attract grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods
  • Encourage facilities that serve children (e.g., hospitals, recreation centers, and parks) to promote healthy foods and beverages.
  • Provide economic incentives to increase production of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Evaluate the effect of targeted subsidies on purchases of healthy foods through nutrition assistance programs.
  • Study the effects of state and local sales taxes on calorie-dense foods.

For increasing kids’ physical activity

  • School programs should stress physical activity as much as healthy nutrition.
  • State and local school programs should increase the quality and frequency of age-appropriate physical education taught by certified PE teachers.
  • Promote recess for elementary school students and activity breaks for older students.
  • Federal, state, and local agencies should partner with communities and businesses to extend the school day in order to offer physical activity programs.
  • The EPA should assist communities building new schools to place them on sites that encourage walking or biking to school.
  • Increase the number of safe playgrounds and parks, particularly in low-income communities.
  • Encourage entertainment and technology companies to continue developing new ways to engage kids in physical activity.

Good ideas, but there are some things I’m not so crazy about here.  The plan seems awfully voluntary and let’s be pals and all work together. Voluntary, as evidence demonstrates, does not work for the food industry.  Much leadership will be needed to make this plan work.  But these recommendations should give advocates plenty of inspiration to continue working on these issues.

The Washington Post has a particularly good summary of the key recommendations, and singles out the ones aimed at marketing to kids.

Jane Black of the Washington Post is cautiously optimistic.  Me too.

  • Anthro

    Does any part of the report define “encourage”? Most obese people have been “encouraged” to lose weight most of their lives, most with little permanent success.

  • http://www.StopBloggingAndCook.com Joy

    Does the US have the political will to improve the health of its citizens? This report would indicate yes. However, the food industry has, for decades, demonstrated that it values its bottom line financial health over the health of its customers. I’d say that the clock has run out on voluntary measures of any kind.

    If we are serious, end front-of-package health claims. Clean up labels for consumer clarity. Label GMOs. Require approval, testing all chemicals and engineered additives before approving. Prohibit antibiotics and hormones in any part of the food chain. Prohibit marketing to kids.

    Then let’s begin educating and encouraging consumers to make healthy and whole food choices, cooking family meals at home; decreasing salt, sugar and fat intake; and increasing physical activity across the board. It’s not so hard once the country is willing.

  • Emily

    I also worry some when there’s a recommendation to “improve quality” and “stress physical activity” without any definitions or standards, but I do think this is at least a decent start.

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  • GoneWithTheWind

    My concern is what will be mandated. Recently a grade school child was suspended from school for accepting a piece of candy from another child at lunch. The school believes the government mandates punishment for the slightest deviation from the prescribed diet. So will our kids be punished for eating something legal? Will our kids be taken away from us if we are deemed to be bad parents for letting them eat coco puffs? In my experience the only way to get an obese person to a normal weight is with a starvation diet. If this is unacceptable as an interrogation method to save lives why would it be acceptable to inflict on children? Does anyone really think posting calorie counts of food will make you slim? Will skinny kids be allowed to eat what they want or must they be punished too for the common good? Who decides what food is good? At one time or another every food group has been deemed bad. So is it OK to eat margarine a saturated fat usually containing transfats? If so why? If not, then what? Most of what we think we know about healthy food is based on conjecture and mythology. According to the food Nazis Americans have the worst diets on the planet and yet our life expectancy grows every year. In most of the countries where traditional diets are still practiced their life expectancy is half of ours. Obesity tends to be more prevalent in certain races will these new diet requirements be racial profiling? As these racial groups continue to grow as a percentage of Americans can we all expect more punishment until we are all the correct weight? Explain why the food Czars are not elling us about the obesity paradox, i.e. in all age groups those people who have a higher then ideal BMI live longer and healthier lives then people with a lower then ideal BMI. In fact the most healthy BMI is 27.5 not 24.9 as we have been told. Are the food Nazis covering this up or will they openly discuss this little “problem”.

  • Dorothy Gale

    Gone with the Wind, so much FAIL in your tirade!

    “My concern is what will be mandated. Recently a grade school child was suspended from school for accepting a piece of candy from another child at lunch. The school believes the government mandates punishment for the slightest deviation from the prescribed diet. So will our kids be punished for eating something legal? Will our kids be taken away from us if we are deemed to be bad parents for letting them eat coco puffs?”

    Can it be any worse that what is already mandated in schools? Have you eaten a school lunch lately? I have, and it’s not pretty.

    “In my experience the only way to get an obese person to a normal weight is with a starvation diet. If this is unacceptable as an interrogation method to save lives why would it be acceptable to inflict on children? Does anyone really think posting calorie counts of food will make you slim? “

    Starvation, sure, if you’re used to eating 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day. It’s easy to do if you depend on convenience foods and sugary drinks. Education in key here, in knowing that as a woman I only need 2,000 calories (or fewer!) a day. When you eat out, do you know how many calories you’re getting? Probably not. People need to know their one meal is often at least half the calories you need for a day, and quite often all you need. IN ONE MEAL. A meal that isn’t filling, and will leave you hungry for a snack in a couple of hours. If a person fills up on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and real whole grains, they can feast all day long for very few calories.

    “Will skinny kids be allowed to eat what they want or must they be punished too for the common good? Who decides what food is good?”

    “At one time or another every food group has been deemed bad. So is it OK to eat margarine a saturated fat usually containing transfats? If so why? If not, then what? Most of what we think we know about healthy food is based on conjecture and mythology. “

    And yet you espouse traditional diets from other cultures? Make up your mind, are traditional diets good or bad?

    “According to the food Nazis Americans have the worst diets on the planet and yet our life expectancy grows every year. In most of the countries where traditional diets are still practiced their life expectancy is half of ours.”

    Of course we have one of the worst diets, it’s all about the convenience foods. We don’t eat much that is fresh anymore because—gasp!—you would have to cook. What does increase our life expectancy is our health care and amazing range of pharmeceuticals to cure whatever obesity-induced issues ail us.

    “Obesity tends to be more prevalent in certain races will these new diet requirements be racial profiling? As these racial groups continue to grow as a percentage of Americans can we all expect more punishment until we are all the correct weight? Explain why the food Czars are not elling us about the obesity paradox, i.e. in all age groups those people who have a higher then ideal BMI live longer and healthier lives then people with a lower then ideal BMI. In fact the most healthy BMI is 27.5 not 24.9 as we have been told. Are the food Nazis covering this up or will they openly discuss this little “problem”.”

    BMI is not the end all, be all of measures of health. Body composition comes into play here, and often a very fit person with low body fat will have a BMI outside the normal range. You will find very healthy people outside the BMI range; and unhealthy people inside of it. It depends greatly on lifestyle and diet choices.

    Is it any wonder we are wallowing in confusion due to lack of basic nutrition knowledge?

  • Cathy Richards

    Dr. David Katz had a decent article on the report. A quote from it:
    “While better use of feet and forks may be a matter of personal responsibility, the environment that … empowers or disempowers our personal pursuit of health, is a matter of public policy. Much of the most crucial defense of the human body resides with the body politic.” http://www.davidkatzmd.com/articles.aspx , May 14, 2010

  • Emily – LI

    Regarding the last point: “Encourage entertainment and technology companies to continue developing new ways to engage kids in physical activity.”

    Has anyone seen the new Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver games for the Nintendo DS? It comes with a little add-on called the “Pokewalker.” Basically it’s a pedometer, and you can put one of your Pokemon “inside” of it. With every step you take, the Pokemon gains an experience point. If you walk enough, the Pokemon will gain a level. I thought this was an extremely creative way to encourage physical activity among the video gaming set.

  • sarah

    All these recommendations are well and good, but couldn’t we just stop subsidizing the crap we are subsidizing, and subsidize organic non-factory farms where the end product is unprocessed food? It seems like it would improve the pollution/contamination issue, make the fresh stuff cheaper, and the junk food more expensive. And also increase food stamp amounts. It would be awesome if the administration would try something like this. If they reformed health care, I’d like to see them do something with the farm bill, too.

  • http://www.menumusings.cm Mattheous @ Menu Musings

    Having children’s TV characters portray healthy eating habits is all well and good–but when you make the Cookie Monster start eating veggies instead of cookies? That has just gone too far in my book.

    Not to mention the ‘regulations’ can go wrong so easily. For example, the regulation that milk has to be in schools–but provide a choice between regular milk and flavored. Obviously the children are going to choose flavored milk. The fact that milk shouldn’t even be consumed after infancy is besides the point.

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  • http://brevillejuicefountain800jexl.net/ bryan

    I am an optimist when it comes to the government combating unhealthy foods and snacks for our children. But what is disturbing is when parents go grocery shopping. They seem incline to purchase does unhealthy snacks and foods anyway. The government can not control private purchasing of unhealthy foods for our children.

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