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Public Policy is First Step to Tackling Childhood Obesity

According to government figures, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled over the past three decades. Today, nearly one in three American children is overweight or obese. One-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

To emphasize this untenable situation, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that people who were obese as children are more likely to die from disease before the age of 55.

America, do we have a problem!

We know that the obvious contributors to the obesity epidemic are a poor diet (including lack of good nutrition and too many empty calories from junk food and sugar-laden sodas), over consumption (simply eating too much), and lack of exercise.

Since the 1950s, the per capita increase in the consumption of soft drinks has risen by 500 percent. Today, roughly 50 percent of school districts have contracts with soft-drink companies allowing them to sell sodas on school premises—unheard of when I was a kid.

The average child views about 10,000 food ads each year. And, just in case you wondered, these aren’t ads for fruits and vegetables; 95 percent of them are marketing fast food, sodas, candy, or sugared cereals to children. The ad budget corporate America is spending to convince your kids to eat and drink and chew is estimated at $10 billion.

Apparently the advertising is paying off. Children are consuming vast quantities of these food-like substances, much to the detriment of their current and future well-being.

There are an increasing number of concerned and qualified voices speaking out on childhood obesity, and that’s good. But in order to successfully reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, true change needs to occur in our core values and this needs to be reflected in public policy.

Sodas and junk food should be removed from public schools and replaced with farm-fresh food grown without pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetic modification. Our children deserve to be treated with care and respect. There is an absence of studies validating the long-term safety of these chemical and biotech-lab experiments. They have been rushed to market with an “innocent until proven guilty” regulatory standard that favors corporate profits over health and safety.

Physical education in schools needs to be reinstated. According to the American Heart Association, 22 percent of schools don’t require students to take any physical education at all. Only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily phys ed for the entire school year. Yet 95 percent of parents believe phys ed should be part of a school curriculum for all students in grades K–12.

Making budget cuts to physical education programs and serving processed, low-nutrient foods for school breakfasts and lunches while selling out our kids to soda and junk-food companies is a false economy. Being overweight and obese takes a healthcare toll on our nation to the tune of $147 billion per year. Wouldn’t it be prudent—not to mention humane—to spend some of these illness dollars on prevention? While we’re at it, some urban redesigning could be done in neighborhoods to provide safe areas for walking, biking and playing.

This isn’t Einstein stuff. It’s really just common sense, but it points out that our national priorities are pretty screwed up, to put it politely.

We need to value our children and our health as a national priority. True healthcare means more than being able to afford doctor visits, drugs and hospital bills. In an economy that’s all about the money, companies are making profits selling diets full of sugar, salt and carbohydrates, and other companies are making “healthcare” profits dealing with the sad, and in some cases tragic, results. Crazy? Yes, but that’s the system that guides the sometimes incomprehensible decisions coming out of Washington.

We simply have to re-establish the true core values of the American people and their families and have our government’s policies reflect these. The principle of simply making a profit may be good enough for Wall Street and corporate board rooms but it’s not enough for a sustainable America. We just witnessed an economic meltdown in this country from operating on those values. We are also going through a health meltdown, though it’s less obvious. Corporations are getting rich while our children are getting fat and sick.

Profit must be tempered with ethics. How about a system of Sustainable Capitalism? This would place worth on people, environment and quality of life along with profits made from forwarding these values. From such a system we could obtain a true measure of both our productivity and our happiness.



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