While our presidential candidates were arguing the merits of the Iraq War on Thursday, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine called for sweeping societal changes to battle childhood obesity, reports The New York Times.
The report, which was requested by Congress, calls for “healthier meals in schools and restaurants; more opportunities for physical education at schools and in communities; restrictions in television advertising to children; and education of health professionals and children to make better choices,” wrote the Times.
It seems American experts are finally figuring out that this problem is deeply embedded in U.S. culture and will require battling the food industry. Here’s what one has to say:
“We are in the early stages of this process,” said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, vice-president for academic health affairs at Emory University in Atlanta and chairman of the committee. “I think we need to make a revolution in our society. What we found with other health matters – fluoridation, bicycle helmets, smoking – is that you develop societal changes and then there is a shift in what is societally acceptable.” Just as it took decades to change public attitude about smoking, said Dr. Koplan, a former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it will take decades to change public attitudes about the causes of obesity.
Decades is a long time. That means kissing off an entire generation or two of kids. But then government tends to work that way. Why fix something quickly when you can spread the misery over a few decades?
And even though the experts and some politicians admit there is a huge problem – hey, 15 percent of kids over 6-19 years of age are obese – the actual recommendations to fix the problem mirrored the weak-worded food guidelines that came out a month ago.
To help out our regulators, I added my own comments in italics to some of the recommendations printed in The Times:
• The enactment of nutritional standards for all food and beverages served in school and development of programs to teach health education with annual assessments of student weight; (Come on, put some guarantees here that these standards will be free of the food industry’s influence.)
• Expansion of physical activity for students in school to at least 30 minutes a day; (Only 30 minutes? My high school required 45 minutes, five-days a week of gym class, not counting after hour sports. And let’s add the word “strenuous” before “physical activity.”)
• Voluntary development and setting of guidelines for advertising and marketing to children; (Voluntary is worthless. Hasn’t government learned this by now? Mandatory guidelines, folks, mandatory.)
• Authorization of the Federal Trade Commission to monitor the guidelines; (Forget the word monitor. “Enforce the guidelines,” is what the policy should say.)
• Availability of more healthful food and beverage options, including nutrition information; (Availability where? Schools? The stores? There are tons of great food – in California anyway – but only a few people buy it. Those foods, by the way, are called vegetables, fruit and whole grains.)
• Community programs to promote nutrition and regular physical activity, with changes in zoning to include sidewalks, bike paths, parks and playgrounds; (Hey guys, read this and you will realize more than community programs are needed to solve childhood obesity. It is time we demand that local and state governments properly plan communities and reign in home builders.)
• Availability of healthy foods at home; parental encouragement of physical activity and limiting children’s recreational viewing of television, video games and computers to less than two hours a day; (And how prey tell are you going to get across this message, telepathy?)
• Creation of a federal interagency task force to coordinate activities. (Why call it a task force? Let’s try Obesity Czar or Fitness Czar.)
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who thought the panel’s guidelines were inadequate:
“The government recommendations are weak because they do not include clear goals with timelines for achieving them or any system of accountability,” Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University, told The Washington Post. “The food industry recommendations are weak because they are voluntary, and we already know that voluntary doesn’t work.”
Thank you Marion. I’m glad someone out there noticed.