The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity just unveiled its plan to solve childhood obesity. The report’s recommendations ranged from encouraging schools to work with local growers to providing economic incentives for fruits, vegetables and grains to displaying calorie counts on restaurant menus.
The report leans heavily on parents, health care providers, the medical community and government agencies to drive solutions. The reality is that these constituencies have failed for over two decades to effect a lasting resolution to America’s overweight and obesity crisis.
Rather than highlighting seventy-odd recommendations on what should be done, we would be better served if focus were placed on the two most critical issues: (1) lowering the number of calories that our children eat, and (2) educating them how to eat well. And that means engaging the food marketers and suppliers.
Why calories? Because calories available for individual consumption have increased by 30% since 1970. Efforts to ban or limit high fructose corn syrup, sodium and saturated fats only diffuse focus on the real issue. Lower calories and, surprise, fats and sweeteners also go down.
A good place to start is in our school systems. Schools offer a “controlled” environment unlike home or play situations. School districts can immediately demand that their foodservice and vending machine suppliers lower the average number of calories they sell per student by 20%. This can be achieved by reconfiguring entrée meals or providing lower calorie snacks in vending machines. And profit margins would not be hampered.
Second, instead of limiting or banning advertising to children, we should leverage the $1.6 billion spent on child food ads to educate them by incorporating a portion control and/or nutritional and/or exercise message. All ads directed to children must contain these messages and they would be limited to products that meet certain science-based nutrition standards. This $1.6 billion in advertising dwarfs available government funds for education and would make a serious dent in communicating important nutritional messages to children.
It’s time to look beyond recycled solutions and capitalize on the food marketer’s ability to effect positive change.