A study released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health found that obesity rates increased in 28 states. Mississippi still reigns supreme as the heaviest state, and also boasts the highest rates of hypertension and being physically inactive.
The survey also polled parents, and found that there is an increasing awareness of obesity and the potential harmful impacts it can have on individuals and the public overall. However, parents still aren’t connecting childhood obesity on a broader scale with the impacts it can have on their own kids’ lives. For example, 84% of parents think their kids are at a healthy weight, yet 33% of kids and teens are overweight/obese (there is a 17% discrepancy between reality and perceptions).
It’s great that an increasing number of people and parents are becoming aware of the obesity epidemic and how linked it is to overall health. Yes, the obesity numbers are growing in the majority of states. However, the fact that awareness is on the rise is a great sign – and the first step to improving the situation.
The nutrition watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released its Extreme Eating Awards for 2010. These awards go to restaurant dishes that are frightenengly laden with calories, saturated fat and sodium (salt).
Among the winners are dishes from Outback Steakhouse, Five Guys Burgers, Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s and California Pizza Kitchen.
There’s not doubt that if people are eating these types of entrees on a regular basis as a “normal” lunch or dinner, this is a pretty briskly-flying red flag (and not just the ones that made this cut – there are plenty of options high in calories, fat and sodium out there). However, if you’ve planned all week/month for a fun occasional celebratory meal, you’re not a bad person. We all do have our cravings from time to time! Moderation and how often we eat these kinds of meals is the key to maintaining a healthy balance in life.
Yesterday, Michelle Obama and Cabinet officials announced the release of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report. The report includes 70 recommendations and a governmental nudge that, if action isn’t taken in various areas to make the recommendations a reality, the gov’t will step in.
The Task Force aims to drop child obesity rates down to 5% (or lower) by 2030. With current rates fluxing around 20%, that’s quite a drop.
The five broad guidelines of the report are:
- Reduce the risk of obesity early in childrens’ lives, with good prenatal care for their mothers, promotion of breastfeeding, limits on “screen time”, and quality child care settings with nutritious food and many opportunities for young children to be physically active.
- Empower parents and caregivers my making nutrition information more useful, improving food marketing and labeling practices and strengthening the health care provider’s role in patient education and healthcare services.
- Provide healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts, improving the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools and improving nutrition education and the overall school environment to match these healthier food offerings.
- Ensure access to healthy, affordable food by eliminating “food deserts” in urban and rural America, lowering prices of healthier foods, providing a broader range of healthy foods in the marketplace and giving all access to resources for consumers to make healthful choices (via education, nutrition assistance programs, etc.)
- Increase physical activity levels in children through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school, modifying the “built environment” that make it easier and safer for children to walk or bike in their communities and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.
This is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind in U.S. government, with a larger number of people and groups on the bandwagon than ever before. We think there’s definitely a lot of promise with this initiative and can’t wait to see how it gets started across various sectors of the U.S.
CalorieLab had a great post about added sugars in U.S. diets.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released guidelines for how much added sugar we should be taking in. They emphasize that eating a lot of added sugars (the kind of sugars slipped into processed foods and sugars we add to foods ourselves) is linked to a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
AHA recommends that adult women should keep added sugar intake within 100 calories/day (6.5 teaspoons) and men within 150 calories/day (9.5 teaspoons). Brown sugar, table sugar, honey, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup and molasses are included in this “added sugar” category.
A key fact about these sugars is that, beyond calories, they don’t provide any nutritional value. In other words, they’re empty calories. In a world where were getting too many calories and too few nutrients, this adds up. Especially with the stat that in the U.S., on average, people consume 22.2 teaspoons of added sugars/day (355 calories).
The post also provides a list of some common processed food items and their added sugar content. These foods have a startlingly high level of sugar. Many foods we don’t even think of as being sweet, such as breads and sauces, are stocked with added sugars.
It’s clear that food processing will need to change to take some of these added sugars out of processed foods, which many of us are eating more than we’re not eating them. It’ll be interesting to see if U.S. palates can gradually tune down enough to accept lower-sugar products as palatable.
According to an article in the Telegraph, Liverpool, UK is considering banning the terms “obese” and “obesity” when addressing children. This would apply to all public health strategies aimed at helping kids get to/maintain a healthy weight. They recommend replacing these terms with “unhealthy weight” so as to not stigmatize or offend children in this category.
It’s a tough call. We definitely see benefits in promoting healthy lifestyles instead of focusing on the negative – and offering tools and solutions for how to up the ante of a family’s lifestyle to keep kids in the “healthy weight” zone. But is “unhealthy weight” any better than “obese,” really?
Focusing on healthy lifestyles instead of the negative (not being at an ideal weight), no matter what types of terms are used, is definitely the way to go.
While nothing is for sure, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) noted in a release yesterday that noted a bipartisan agreement is likely that will not just address school meals but also other foods sold in schools (in vending machines, a la cart lines, etc.) when school nutrition standards are revised this year. This agreement reportedly has industry leader and health group support.
There is a bit of an issue if school meals are revised to have more rigorous standards, but there are vending machines and a la cart lines that continue to offer “junk.” We think including all foods and beverages sold in schools would be a really positive step for promoting student nutrition.
There certainly has been a push to reduce childhood obesity while altering food products and what’s offered in schools. Earlier this week, First Lady Michelle Obama also implored the Grocery Manufacturers Association to stop “selling junk and fattening kids up” and to avoid reformulating products that remove one negative nutrient (e.g., fat) only to replace another (sugar or salt) (our translation). As noted in a post from earlier this week, PepsiCo has just made a policy that will stop selling full-sugar soft drinks in schools across the globe.
It seems to be a battle these days between PepsiCo and Coca-Cola for news headlines …
PepsiCo announced yesterday that it is making a pledge to stop selling full-sugar carbonated soft drinks in schools across the globe. This is the first global approach to school beverage policy that has been announced by a major company.
The Pepsi policy will still allow sale of calorie-free drinks, sports drinks and fruit juices.
Food advocacy/watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) applauded Pepsi for this big move while criticizing Coca-Cola for its policy that allows sales of full-sugar sodas in high schools and at the request of primary school authorities.
The new policy takes effect January 1, 2011. It comes after a big anti-childhood-obesity push this year that has included the announcement of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign and an American Beverage Assoc. study that found the U.S. has made great strides in reducing high-calorie sodas in schools.
Many speculate that when school lunch and other child nutrition programs are reauthorized by Congress this year, there may be pressure for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include foods and beverages sold in vending machines and outside of the school lunch program. We’re curious to see if this will be the case.