Obama-led initiative on obesity taking shape

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — An action plan aimed at reducing the rate of childhood obesity to 5% by 2030 was unveiled May 11 by First Lady Michelle Obama. In a Washington press conference, the plan was described by Mrs. Obama and Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes.

Also present at the press conference were members of the Childhood Obesity Task Force, the group responsible for developing the plan, “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation.”

“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measureable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time,” Mrs. Obama said. “We want to marshal every resource — public and private sector, mayors and governors, parents and educators, business owners and health care providers, coaches and athletes — to ensure that we are providing each and every child the happy, healthy future they deserve.”

According to the White House, the 5% target represents the rate of childhood obesity prevalent before the upturn that has continued since the 1970s.

In February, Mrs. Obama began the effort with the launch of a Let’s Move! Campaign. President Obama established the task force with the objective of developing an interagency plan with a coordinated strategy that specifies key benchmarks and outlines and action plan to reducing childhood obesity.
The report features 70 specific recommendations, which were summarized by the White House as follows:

o “Getting children a healthy start on life, with good prenatal care for their parents; support for breastfeeding; adherence to limits on “screen time”; and quality child care settings with nutritious food and ample opportunity for young children to be physically active.

o “Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans; improved labels on food and menus that provide clear information to help parents make healthy choices for children; reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children; and improved health care services, including B.M.I. measurement for all children.

o “Providing healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts; upgrading the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools; and improving nutrition education and the overall health of the school environment.

o “Improving access to healthy, affordable food, by eliminating ‘food deserts’ in urban and rural America; lowering the relative prices of healthier foods; developing or reformulating food products to be healthier; and reducing the incidence of hunger, which has been linked to obesity.

o “Getting children more physically active, through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school; addressing aspects of the ‘built environment’ that make it difficult for children to walk or bike safely in their communities; and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.”

The White House said the task force’s recommendation, like the Let’s Move program, relies on strong partnerships with the private sector.

Reviewing public sector actions sought in the announcement, the White House detailed what will take place over the course of the next year, by federal agencies:

o Department of Health and Human Services: releasing new guidance for standards for physical activity and nutrition in child care settings, and help consumers make informed choices at restaurants and grocery stores by getting calorie counts onto menus and by working with the food and beverage industry to develop a clear, standard “front of pack” food label;

o U.S. Department of Agriculture: updating the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid to “provide parents and caregivers with helpful information about nutrition.” Will work with Congress to pass a child nutrition reauthorization bill to improve food in schools;

o Federal Trade Commission: monitoring how food is marketed to children, with a follow-up study to its 2008 report on industry practices;

o U.S.D.A, Treasury, and H.H.S.: working with Congress to bring grocery stores and other food retailers to underserved areas by supporting more than $400 million in investments in a Healthy Food Financing Initiative;

o Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency: promoting walking and biking to school with a new best practices guide from the D.O.T.-funded National Center for Safe Routes to School and new proposed voluntary “school sitting” guidelines from the E.P.A.

Members of the Obama staff will be promoting the new initiative in coming days, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Mr. Vilsack will join city council members in Washington to celebrate unanimous passage of the Healthy Schools Act at Alice Deal Middle School. The legislation seeks to improve the nutritional quality of D.C. school meals, support farm-to-school and school gardening opportunities, and expand access so that more children get a healthy school breakfast or lunch.

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