Tackling Childhood Obesity

March 04, 2010

Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, an initiative with the ambitious goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation.

Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, an initiative with the ambitious goal of solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation. For children aged 6–11 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 6.5% to 17.0% in a 25 year period according to government data reports The Food Institute which regularly reports on such issues to the food industry.

On the same day, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating a Task Force on Childhood Obesity bringing even more attention to the dilemma of childhood obesity reports The Food Institute. 

Together, these actions signal a sustained, multifaceted campaign against childhood obesity by the Obama Administration. Importantly, both Let’s Move and the Presidential Memorandum clearly state that there goal is to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation, suggesting an aggressive approach.

Let’s Move will involve a wide array of public and private participants. Signaling the scope of the effort, the First Lady was joined at the White House by the Secretaries of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Education, Interior, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development; the Surgeon General; members of Congress; mayors from around the country; and business, media, medical, sports, and entertainment leaders.

Much of Let’s Move can be described as a public awareness campaign. For example, this spring it will provide parents and families with tips and toolkits to help increase physical activity, increase community access to healthy foods, and create a healthy school environment. The initiative also seeks to effect change through public-private partnerships, including the following: 
• Several major school food suppliers have voluntarily committed to meeting the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations on sugar, fat, and salt within five years, to increase whole grains, and to double the amount of fresh produce they serve within ten years. 
• The School Nutrition Association representing school foodservice workers has voluntarily committed to ensuring that the nutrition programs in 10,000 schools meet the Healthier U.S. School Challenge standards within five years. 
• The American Academy of Pediatrics, working with the broader medical profession, will educate doctors and nurses about obesity and to ensure they regularly monitor children’s body mass index and provide counseling on health eating. 
• Several major media companies and The Ad Council have committed to producing public service announcements on the problem of obesity, as well as special programming and marketing. 
• The American Beverage Association has announced that its members will voluntarily present calorie information on the front of beverage containers, as well as vending and fountain machines, by the end of 2012. 
• Several foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation have joined to create a new organization, the Partnership for a Healthier America, to work on the childhood obesity problem. This new organization will act as a convener of public and private interests and seek to obtain commitments from industry. 
Let’s Move also includes the following public policy measures: 
• The Food and Drug Administration will, by the end of 2010, complete guidance for manufacturers and retailers on “new nutritionally sound and consumer friendly front-of-package nutrition labeling.” 
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture will revamp the Food Pyramid, both the symbol itself and the online interactive tool at MyPyramid.gov. 
• The President is seeking to increase funding of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, by $10 billion over ten years, through reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. 
• The President’s proposed FY 2011 budget includes a new program, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a partnership between the Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services that would invest $400 million a year to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help convenience stores and bodegas stock healthier foods. The proposed budget also includes an additional $5 million in grants to promote farmers markets. 

Meanwhile. The President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity is charged with developing a comprehensive interagency action plan “to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.” To achieve this goal, the Task Force is to make recommendations in four broad areas: 
1. Ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; 
2. Increasing physical activity in schools and communities; 
3. Providing healthier foods in schools; and 
4. Empowering parents with information and tools to make healthy choices. 

The Task Force’s function is advisory only however. But in another two months it must develop and submit to the President a plan that: 
• Details a coordinated strategy by executive departments and agencies and identifies areas for reform; 
• Includes comprehensive, multi-sectoral strategies from each department, agency, or office; 
• Identifies key benchmarks and provides for regular measurement, assessment, and reporting of executive branch efforts; 
• Describes a plan for identifying relevant evidence gaps and conducting or facilitating research to fill those gaps; 
• Assists in the development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals to improve the health of children, families, and communities; and 
• Describes potential areas of collaboration with other public and nongovernmental actors. 
 Once the plan is made public, there will certainly be even more attention focused on the childhood obesity dilemma and The Food Institute will be closely monitoring those developments as their impact could be far reaching on the food industry.