May 11, 2010 -- Spearheaded by Michelle Obama, a new presidential initiative would reverse the child obesity epidemic.
The goal, as set out in a report from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, is to reduce childhood obesity from 20% to 5% by 2030.
To accomplish this, the plan makes 70 recommendations for early childhood, for parents and caregivers, for school meals and nutrition education, for access to healthy food, and for increasing physical activity.
"For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time," Obama says in a news release.
U.S. kids haven't always been obese. Only one in 20 children ages 2 to 19 was obese in the 1970s. But around 1980 child obesity began to rocket to today's stratospheric level: Nearly one in three kids is overweight or obese, and nearly one in five is frankly obese.
Everyone knows obese kids face worse health than their normal-weight peers. What this means is that higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and lung disease may lower children's life expectancy below that of their parents.
Other effects are becoming apparent. The U.S. armed forces now warn that one in four Americans aged 17 to 24 is too heavy for military service.
To reverse these trends, the White House plan seeks to cut child obesity and overweight rates by 2.5% by 2015 and by 5% by 2020. It's not a vague goal. Scorekeeping will be up to the CDC, which reports child obesity rates every two years.
- The number of children eating a healthy diet as measured by the USDA Healthy Eating Index. A score of 80 out of 100 indicates a healthy diet. Today's score: 55.9. The goal is to score 65 by 2015 and 70 by 2020.
- The amount of sugar in children's diets.
- The amount of fruits and vegetables in children's diets.
- The number of children meeting yet-to-be-established physical activity guidelines.
Fighting Obesity in Early Childhood
The White House plan makes 12 recommendations for early childhood. Key elements of these recommendations are:
- Educate and help women conceive at a healthy weight and have a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
- Encourage and support breastfeeding.
- Federal and state agencies should prioritize research into chemicals in the environment that may cause or worsen obesity.
- Educate and support parents in efforts to reduce kids' screen time (i.e. less time watching television and using digital media and more time being physically active).
- Improve federal early childhood programs' child nutrition and physical activity practices.
Fighting Childhood Obesity by Empowering Parents and Caregivers
The White House plan makes 13 recommendations for empowering parents and caregivers. Key elements of these recommendations are:
- The federal government should work with local communities to spread the word about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the next generation of the food pyramid.
- The FDA and USDA should work with the food and beverage industry to develop standard nutrition labels for packages.
- Restaurants and vending machines should display calorie counts of all items offered.
- The food and beverage industry should extend its voluntary self-regulation to restrict all forms of marketing to children. If this does not happen, federal regulation should be considered.
- Media and entertainment companies should limit licensing of popular characters to healthy food and beverage products.
- Insurance plans should cover services needed to help prevent, assess, and care for child obesity.
Fighting Childhood Obesity by Improving School Foods
The White House plan makes 17 recommendations for healthier food in schools. Key elements of these recommendations are:
- Update federal standards for school meals and improve the nutritional quality of USDA foods provided to schools.
- Increase funding for school meals.
- Encourage schools to upgrade cafeteria equipment to support healthier foods. Example: Swap deep fryers for salad bars.
- Connect school meal programs to local growers and encourage farm-to-school programs.
- Improve nutritional education in schools and make it more available.
- Increase the use of school gardens to educate about healthy eating.
- Promote healthy behaviors in juvenile correction facilities.
Fighting Childhood Obesity by Improving Access to Healthy Food
The White House plan makes 11 recommendations for improving access to healthy foods. Key elements of these recommendations are:
- Launch a multi-agency "Healthy Food Financing Initiative" to make healthy foods more available in underserved urban and rural communities.
- Encourage local governments to attract grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods.
- Encourage facilities that serve children (e.g., hospitals, recreation centers, and parks) to promote healthy foods and beverages.
- Provide economic incentives to increase production of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Evaluate the effect of targeted subsidies on purchases of healthy foods through nutrition assistance programs.
- Study the effects of state and local sales taxes on calorie-dense foods.
Fighting Childhood Obesity by Increasing Physical Activity
The White House plan makes 17 recommendations for increasing kids' physical activity. Key elements of these recommendations are:
- School programs should stress physical activity as much as healthy nutrition.
- State and local school programs should increase the quality and frequency of age-appropriate physical education taught by certified PE teachers.
- Promote recess for elementary school students and activity breaks for older students.
- Federal, state, and local agencies should partner with communities and businesses to extend the school day in order to offer physical activity programs.
- The EPA should assist communities building new schools to place them on sites that encourage walking or biking to school.
- Increase the number of safe playgrounds and parks, particularly in low-income communities.
- Encourage entertainment and technology companies to continue developing new ways to engage kids in physical activity.