Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Skinny on Obesity: Part 3

The third installment of "Weight of the Nation" is called "Children in Crisis" and focuses on the problems children have and what is being done to help.

It happened with cigarettes and now it's happening with food.  Food companies are marketing their wares to children and undermining the authority of parents.  The US government has requested that companies end their child-centric advertising for junk foods, but these companies are allowed to self-regulate.  They decide what makes a food bad.  One box has more fiber while another is fortified with vitamin D.  It leads to a lot of confusion for parents and kids alike as to what is actually good for them.

In reaction to this regulatory debacle, the Interagency Working Group (IWG) was set up.  Containing representatives from the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the IWG proposed that companies who wish to market to children must first lower the sugar and fat content of their products.  This was, of course, shot down.  Nothing has been heard from the IWG since.

In 2010, the Obama administration passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kid Act.  This set guidelines for federally sponsored meals such as:
  • Doubling the amount of fruit served at breakfast
  • Increasing quantity and diversifying variety of vegetables served
  • Permitting potatoes as a vegetable serving only twice a week
  • Requiring that 50% of grains served be whole wheat; moving to 100% in two years.
  • Reducing sodium by 53% over 10 years
  • Reducing saturated fat content
In 2011, the Act was knocked down.  French fries remain a valid vegetable serving all week long.  The whole grain push has been delayed.  Tomato paste on a pizza counts as a serving of vegetables.

Beyond lunches, physical education is no longer a mandatory subject and, now, only 1 out of 6 schools require PE.  It is recommended that children get 60 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a day.  If they're not doing it at school and they're sitting in front of the television all night, it's no wonder our national waistline is expanding.

A thorough health education is paramount to our nation's future.  I remember sitting through 8 years of "health class" in which we only covered substance and alcohol abuse with the occasional sex ed hour mixed in.  I could tell you all about how bad cocaine is for you or list a number of STDs that result in rashes, but I was never taught why soda was bad.  How can you make good choices if you're not informed?

So I took to Twitter where HBO was holding a live chat with Dr. Marlene Schwartz, Deputy Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.  I asked:
Me: How do we get nutrition education in schools?
Dr. Marlene Schwartz: I think that parents should get involved in their local school wellness committees- these are federally mandated commitees for all schools with federal funding for food, and part of their role is to look at nutrition education.  join yours and see what you can do.

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