Could lower pricing for healthier foods, increased efforts to get kids more physically active, some clearer guide on what's good to eat, and finally, better food in schools solve America's problem with childhood obesity?
Or is this country's love of fast food, french fries and fried chicken, deep dish pizza and sugar as American as apple pie?
Those questions are being asked in the wake of a new report from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. The report, unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama, aims to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.
"We've been working to give parents the information that they need to make healthy decisions for their families. We've been working to make our schools healthier. We've been working to increase the amount of physical activity that our kids are getting, not just during the day at school but also at home," said the First Lady. "And we're working to eliminate 'food deserts' so that folks have easy and affordable access to the foods they need right in their own neighborhoods."
Behind the rhetoric, the report lays out an aggressive agenda that requires major steps by the federal government, states, schools, food and media companies and parents.
The federal government would offer more information on prenatal care and breastfeeding, a more understandable food pyramid, better food labels and more nutritional choices for federally-supported school lunches. About then the choices fall to others.
States would require child care providers to have a better nutrition education. Schools, some of which have cut back on physical education as a result of money woes, would have to step up physical education programs, better control the snack foods available and swap cafeteria deep fryers for salad bars.
The report wants cities to make it easier for kids to walk or bike to school or engage in outdoor activities by improving access and safety to schools and parks.
It wants food and fast companies to reduce the amount of added sugar in children's diets, reexamine portion sizes, make healthier choices the default option in kids' meals and limit grocery store promotions to healthier products. It also wants them to make affordable healthy foods as available in inner city and rural stores as in other areas.
It wants media companies to set minimum nutritional standards for advertising children's foods.
Finally, it wants to double children's consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Few of those are simple steps. While advertisers and food and beverage companies have been working with the White House and many have taken steps to significantly alter their marketing, there were indications today that the recommendation to let media companies decide which legal products could be advertised could face challenges. There also could be opposition to mandates from school officials, though there was no immediate comment today. The report drew praise today both from some legislators and from grocery products makers.
Then there is the question of whether parents and kids used to certain kinds of foods will really switch to healthier products.
"America's love affair with french fries is not that old," said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "The fast food we live [with] today wasn't always the way Americans ate. I don't think we are born with an innate love of junk food."
Wootan said the families are more likely to want more nutritional choices, but the new choices have to be marketed, distributed and priced reasonably. "Say you walk into a convenience store. The only healthy choice may be a banana or a red apple. Meanwhile, if you want chips, there are 100 different choices in every size or flavor. It is not a fair competition. What's ahead is not going to be easy, but it is achievable."
James Gattuso, senior fellow in regulatory policy for the conservative Heritage Foundation, however, worried about what the government was doing even as he praised parts of the report for making "common sense recommendations."
"To the extent, it would have a national cook to supplement the national nanny, we don't need government to penalize
food it does not like," he said. "Ultimately those decisions should be made by parents."
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