Montgomery Hasn't Sated Its Appetite for Diet Activism

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007

It's for your own good, Montgomery County. Really.

The county has banned trans fats in restaurants and is considering mandatory nutrition labels on menus. And now an Obesity Task Force is trying to brainstorm ways to prod residents to make healthier food choices.

Its first targets are kids in child-care centers and county employees. Better informed child-care providers and less-fattening vending machine choices would be the means.

Montgomery may have good reason to take on fat: A recent national survey found that more than half of Montgomery adults are overweight or obese by national standards.

The county is on the leading edge of a growing movement. New York City was the first to ban trans fats. And New York and King County, Wash., where Seattle is located, have adopted food-labeling requirements.

In the Washington area, D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) has proposed a nutrition labeling measure. Arlington County has established the FITArlington program to promote exercise and healthy living. And in May, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments voiced support for a resolution urging communities to rethink their approaches to fitness and nutrition and to better track health data.

One of the driving forces behind the initiatives in Montgomery is County Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large). He said government isn't trying to tell people what they can eat. No one is taking away your cheeseburger, he said.

But, he said, "over time, as awareness of public health increases, there is a greater desire for government to play a role in informing consumers. Most people don't know a giant-size shake has more calories than a cheeseburger."

And, officials said, if people know, perhaps they'll opt for the salad instead of the fries. If not, at least they've been warned.

But there are those who disagree.

Trevor Bothwell, author of the Who's Your Nanny? blog, was one of several writers who took aim recently at Montgomery's health initiatives in the blogosphere.

"There are a lot of things that are dangerous -- sweets, staying up too late," said Bothwell, who has blogged about Montgomery's plan even though he lives in Calvert County. "Are we really going to regulate everything?"

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