What the Candidates Had to Say

Sunday, May 18, 2008; 2:07 PM

The Post asked each presidential candidate -- Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain -- to address the childhood obesity epidemic. Excerpts from their campaigns' responses:

As president, how would you make the issue of childhood obesity a national health priority?

Clinton: "Clinton has . . . pledged to ban junk food in schools by requiring all schools that participate in the school lunch or breakfast programs to make available only foods that meet or surpass [U.S. Department of Agriculture] nutrition standards. And she has proposed . . . to make the school breakfast program universal for all students in low-income communities and to double the summer feeding program."

Obama: "Obama would convene a high-level task force [for] regularly examining federal budgets, policies and programs. . .; identifying opportunities for coordination and collaboration across departments; and establishing consensus regarding priorities for action. Equally important, Obama will ensure the departments had the appropriate resources and authorities to implement any recommendations from the task force."

McCain: "McCain . . . believes that solving the problem of obesity in children can help prevent a lifetime of chronic health conditions. To accomplish that, we must do a better job of teaching children and their parents about child health, nutrition and exercise."

What role do you think the federal government should play in tackling the issue, and how much additional money would you commit to that?

Clinton: "Clinton believes that the federal government, along with other stakeholders, has an important role to play in ensuring that all Americans, including children, have access to quality health care, including preventive services. Her health care plan will require an up-front federal investment of $110 billion. . . . Clinton is also committed to increasing funding for the Carol White Physical Education Program [PEP grants] . . . and to implement a healthy schools program that will provide funding for schools that commit to replacing all unhealthy food with healthy food by 2012."

Obama: "Given the severity of the epidemic and its long-term health and financial implications, Obama believes the federal government must play an important role in addressing this issue. Obama will support efforts to expand and accelerate research on childhood obesity prevention and treatment; support nutrition and physical activity grant programs that are both school- and community-based; and support public health and advocacy group efforts at the community level."

McCain: "McCain believes the fight against obesity involves more than just the federal government mandating fitness. Parents should provide their children with healthier meals and make exercise a family activity; schools must provide children with nutrition education and should offer more opportunities for physical education; and health-care providers should use yearly checkups as an opportunity to guide their patients through diet and fitness goals. The federal government can support these efforts . . . by providing healthy food options to schools through the school nutrition program, providing adequate funding for [PEP grants] and working to ensure that prevention and maintenance are part of basic health care plans."

Would you support national regulation of food advertising and marketing to children? Why or why not?

Clinton: "She would like to see the entire food industry come together to develop voluntary guidelines that take their responsibility to children seriously. She believes that there are a lot of steps that the private sector and the public sector, working together, can take to curb marketing and availability of unhealthy products to our children. As senator, she championed the Children and Media Research Advancement Act to study the impact of electronic media on child development. This bill provides targeted funding to research the links between advertising and childhood obesity."

Obama: "The food industry overall could do substantially more to limit [children's] exposure to foods with minimal nutritional value. Obama believes that guidelines for advertising and marketing of foods and beverages must be finalized, and the industry should be encouraged to implement these guidelines on a voluntary basis. If voluntary adoption is not effective, Obama believes that these guidelines should be made mandatory and that the Federal Trade Commission should have the authority and the resources to monitor and enforce compliance."

McCain: "The federal government regulates food advertisements that are deceptive or untruthful, and McCain believes these regulations are vital to ensuring that well-informed parents can instill healthy eating habits in their children. McCain supports appropriate and informative food labeling so that parents can make healthy choices for their families. Additionally, he encourages food manufacturers and marketers to create voluntary standards to regulate advertising and marketing towards children as necessary and in a manner that could withstand court scrutiny."

Would you seek to amend the No Child Left Behind law to mandate physical education in schools and measurements of its progress? Why or why not?

Clinton: "Clinton does not believe that more federal mandates are the solution to the problems facing our schools. What we need is to reduce the overemphasis on tests and give schools more flexibility to offer physical education and sports programs."

Obama: "Obama would encourage physical education by supporting increased funding for physical education through [PEP grants] and other initiatives, targeting schools in states with the highest rates of childhood obesity."

McCain: "Each school has unique needs and challenges relating to the general physical health of students, and decisions regarding how to address child obesity concerns should be made at the local level to ensure they reflect [those] needs."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company