Whether we knew it or not, this week we witnessed a kind of multiple choice test on childhood health.
The question: What’s the most effective weapon against the childhood obesity epidemic?
A) New laws
B) New expert recommendations
C) New self-imposed industry commitments
All three efforts were unfurled in separate arenas in recent days by a varied cast that included a big city mayor, a crew of former Washington health officials and the company that has brought us John Carter.
All three were met with mixed reactions, ranging from an endorsement by the first lady to a howler of a full-page New York Times ad depicting the mayor of New York dressed as a grandmotherly nanny.
All three have their merits and their drawbacks. It’s unclear which, alone or in combination, may begin to stem the epidemic.
Let’s review all three approaches, starting with New York.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on restaurants, delis, sports venues and movie theaters selling soda and other sugary drinks in portions larger than 16 ounces.
“The percentage of the population that is obese is skyrocketing,” Bloomberg said Thursday on MSNBC. “We’ve got to do something.”
Though the proposal was met with loud protests and calls that Bloomberg was turning New York into a nanny state (leading to the New York Times ad placed by a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom), experts have long said that soda and sugar-laden juices are a main culprit in the childhood obesity epidemic.
Another tact came in the form of a slew of recommendations from a VIP-laden committee.
Former Agriculture Secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman and former Health and Human Services Secretaries Donna E. Shalala and Mike Leavitt Tuesday released their “Lots to Lose” report.
It is an earnest and comprehensive effort that addresses everything from improving school environments to breastfeeding programs to workplaces’ health initiatives.
Alas, it reads like many Washington VIP reports.
Take the report’s subtitle: “How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future, from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative.”
Or its summary statement: It “identif[ies] actionable steps the public and private sectors can take to reduce rising health care costs associated with the decline of our nation’s physical health and nutrition.”
It goes on to offer suggestions such as: “Develop national physical activity guidelines for children under six years old; Develop an effective national strategy for disseminating this information and educating parents about the benefits of first foods and physical activity, particularly for populations that are most at risk for poor nutrition and health.”
Haven’t we been down this road before?
Government experts have told us we should exercise daily and that our kids shouldn’t have screen-time. Have we listened?
If they now come up with activity guidelines for our preschoolers, will that suddenly repopulate our parks with crowds of kids?
One might conclude that “disseminating” this information is not the problem.
One might also not be overly surprised that the report did not get much media attention.
And, for the final and most popular entry of the week:
Disney announced that it will no longer accept advertising from junk food during its programming.
That would make it the first major media company to ban such ads for its TV channels, radio stations and Web sites intended for children.
First lady Michelle Obama called the announcement a “game changer.”
“With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. — and what I hope every company will do going forward,” Obama said in a statement.
Nutrition experts, too, praised the move. Increasing food marketing to children has been repeatedly linked to poor nutrition and obesity.
The caveat is big here.
Industry pledges are non-binding and dictated by for-profit companies. It’s the companies that get to decide the meaning of words like “nutritious” and “healthy.”
As we’ve seen before, sometimes those definitions get murky when words like “profit” stand in the way.
What do you think?
Which do you think is the best approach?