Childhood Obesity Called Crisis, Food Industry Responds

Oct 01, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies, Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance, says the health issue has reached crisis proportions and requires a concerted effort by parents, schools, the food industry and government to deal with it.

The report calls for nutritional standards to be set for food and drinks served at schools and that programs be added to encourage daily exercise for students.

It also called on the food industry to develop clearer labeling on “junk food” products as well as voluntary guidelines for how products are marketed to children.

Groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) argue that a more direct government role is required. “Frankly, how many more of these reports do we need
before the government actually starts adopting some of these policies?” asked Margo Wootan of the CSPI.

“Congress should help parents by requiring calories and other nutrition information on chain-restaurant menus, getting junk foods out of schools, and by directing the Federal Trade Commission to restrict the advertising of junk foods to kids,” she told Reuters.

Mary C. Sophos, senior vice president, government affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America said in a published statement, “To achieve successful behavioral change, we will need to emphasize positive, motivational messages and tools across society, rather than relying on restrictions or negative messages. At the same time, with consumers increasingly interested in health and nutrition, our members are providing and promoting products that make eating healthy and enjoyable.”

Ms. Sophos pointed out a number of steps industry members have taken to address the obesity issue including reformulating products, reducing portion sizes, eliminating trans fats and improving labeling.

“The IOM’s recommendations concerning advertising and marketing describe a system that sounds very much like the one that is in place,” said Ms. Sophos. “The Children’s Advertising Review Unit guidelines and review system, backed by the Federal Trade Commission’s present authority to investigate non-compliance, provide a mechanism that is perfectly suited to the task.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the typical child in the U.S. sees about 40,000 commercials a year while watching television. The vast majority, it claims are for candy, cereal, soda and fast food.

Moderator’s Comment: Is it going to take the sort of Congressional action advocated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to truly address
the issue of childhood obesity? Is the food industry responding in a positive manner?

George Anderson – Moderator

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