While the president’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity released its action plan with 70 specific recommendations to significant praise and fanfare this week, nutrition professor and author Marion Nestle questioned whether the ideas will actually work given their reliance on voluntary collaboration and participation. She said in her blog, “Voluntary, as evidence demonstrates, does not work for the food industry. Much leadership will be needed to make this plan work. But these recommendations should give advocates plenty of inspiration to continue working on these issues.”
First lady Michelle Obama joined several task force members when the report was issued and said, “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. 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.”
The report focuses on four priority areas: “empowering parents and caregivers”; “providing healthy food in schools”; “improving access to healthy, affordable foods”; and “increasing physical activity.” Among its specific recommendations are developing standard nutrition labels for food packages, limiting the licensing of popular entertainment characters to healthy food and beverage products and restricting all forms of marketing to children, either voluntarily or through consideration of federal regulation.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) press statement, federal agencies will take a number of actions within the next year to implement the report’s recommendations. For example, Health and Human Services will issue new guidance for physical activity and nutrition standards in child care settings, get calorie counts on menus and develop clear “front of pack” food labels; USDA will update the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid and work with Congress to pass a child nutrition reauthorization bill that will improve food in schools; and FTC will continue monitoring the marketing of food to children and will follow up its 2008 report on industry practices.
The president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association reportedly issued a statement in response to the report, saying, “We agree that everyone has a role to play, including industry. We embrace our responsibility.” Pamela Bailey also apparently said the industry would continue to make healthier products and mentioned a coalition established in October 2009 that encourages a balance of energy intake and physical activity to reduce obesity.
The International Dairy Foods Association reportedly approved the task force’s “integrated approach” to the issue and said the dairy industry is committed to playing its part to ensure the health of U.S. children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a statement that called the recommendations “bold, yet achievable,” and urged Congress to pass pending legislation that “would provide a historic increase in school lunch funding, get junk food out of vending machines, and help schools implement stronger nutrition and physical activity wellness policies.”
The Center for Consumer Freedom said that parts of the report were “certainly worthwhile, like its efforts to tackle ‘food deserts’ and promote physical activity.” Still, the organization criticized its threat of agency action on youth marketing or increased taxes on “bad” foods or soft drinks, calling such efforts “big government’s overreach” and a strategy that will not work.
In a related development, Baltimore has reportedly named a sustainable food specialist as the city’s food policy director. Holly Freishtat will apparently be charged with trying to combat poor eating habits in inner city neighborhoods by improving demand for and access to healthful food. She reportedly hopes to expand the number of farmers’ markets that will take food stamps. When she had a similar position in the state of Washington, Freishtat reportedly established a curriculum to teach lowincome grade school students about good nutrition through gardening and cooking and established programs to expand farmers’ markets and home gardens. See USDA News Release, Center for Consumer Freedom Press Release, CSPI Press Release, Associated Press and CBS News, May 11, 2010; The Baltimore Sun, FoodNavigator-USA.com, The Washington Post, May 12, 2010; FoodPolitics.com, May 13, 2010.