Thursday, July 15, 2010

House Committee Passes Child Nutrition Bill...Now Move It, Congress!

Today, the House Education & Labor Committee passed a Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill that solidly backs better nutrition for America's school children.

According to a press release by Margo Wootan, Nutrition Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the bill, Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act, H.R. 5504, would eliminate junk food from schools, strengthen school food quality standards and provide funding for better nutrition education.

The children of this nation need all of these provisions desperately. Most school lunch quality standards have not changed since 1990, and the standards for vending machine snacks have not changed since the 1970s. We know that much of what kids are eating today is high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrient foods. We need to put new choices in front of kids, but the choices need to be healthful.

Helping teachers, school lunch staffs, and school administrators learn how they can model optimal food choices and exercise behaviors would also help schools provide instant, affordable nutrition education. And the American Dietetic Association has programs to put nutrition experts (Registered Dietitians) in schools to help kids learn about how they can make healthful food choices for life.

Contact your federal House Representatives and Senators and voice support for (H.R.) 5504 and Senate Bill (S.) 3307, which commonly support bold child nutrition measures.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Lot of Fat People

This is going to sound just plain mean, but it must be said. I saw a lot of fat people on a middle-Atlantic, East coast beach this weekend. And as a Registered Dietitian and nutrition educator, I am not happy about it.

In fact, after living in New York City and suburban New York for over 10 years now, the difference in body sizes between the relatively fit people I'm used to seeing and this particular group of people--when in bathing suits--is shocking.

I'm not talking about a little bit of pudge here or there, or a beer belly on some middle aged folks. I'm talking about downright clinical obesity and in some cases, what medical practitioners call "morbid obesity"--the kind that your doctor will tell you can kill you.

I'm not worried about aesthetics here. I'm worried about health care risks. I'm worried about people who will be staying in hospitals on our children's tax dollars because they will be too sick to work and will need extensive treatment for the large number of illnesses related to obesity--diabetes, kidney disease, some types of cancer, heart disease, and the list goes on.

Last year, the U.S. spent $147 billion on health care whose primary cause was excess weight, according to the CDC. This number is growing steadily each year.

As someone who is advocating for better school food and nutrition education in schools, I wonder: How can parents who are dangerously overweight possibly supply the crucial link between good nutrition at home and good nutrition at school? Are they even thinking about nutrition?

Are so many of us Americans so fat that, when we look around, we have no reason to give pause to our unhealthful BMIs because so many other people look exactly the same way?

I am certainly not attacking anyone. In fact, I do not lay the largest proportion of "blame" on these individuals at all. Powerful food marketing, a lack of places to walk in U.S. towns, bountiful, cheap and fattening food, and myriad other reasons have led to the obesity epidemic. These people are, in large part, its victims.

But if we ask our Congress, then our communities, then our teachers and then our kids to believe in good nutrition and maintaining healthful body weights, we have to show not only in words, but in our actions and our own waist sizes, that we truly believe this is ideal.

At present, our teachers feel defeated because they tell kids that junk food is lousy for their health, only to find the same kids showing up at school with a soda and chips for breakfast. Do the parents eat the same breakfast? When they buy these foods at the store or supply the money for their purchase, what goes through their minds?

This is food for thought. And it's non-caloric. Chew on it a bit.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

F is for Fat

According to a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, this year obesity levels climbed in 28 states. Now over two-thirds of states have at least 25% overweight or obese citizens. The highest growth in overweight was among children 10-17. Perhaps most sadly, over 80% of Americans polled realize that obesity is a serious problem in the U.S., but few know what to do about it.

The Senate has addressed this issue and has agreed on a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill. Now the House must act.

Congresswoman Marsha Fudge (D-OH) hosted a Congressional briefing on childhood obesity and emphasized the disproportionate number of minority children affected by this devastating problem.

And last week the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on H.R. 5504, "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act." The panel of speakers represented diverse sectors: the military, health insurance, the food and restaurant industries, and agriculture.

Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Texas Blue Cross, Blue Shield compared the relatively low cost of allocating more funding to the school lunch programs to the high costs of health care that will may result if kids become obese.

Major General Paul D. Monroe (Ret.) highlighted that a full one-fourth of American youth are not fit enough to serve in the military. To any historian of the nation's child food assistance programs, this is the ultimate shock. One of the primary reasons that President Truman signed such programs into law was that many eligible military recruits were thin and undernourished -- not fat and overnourished, as they are today.

The House promised to begin marking up the bill after July 4th. However, the deadline for reauthorization is September 30. If there's no bill by then, America's kids will continue to live with an out-of-date set of dietary guidelines.

We've got to let Congress know what we want: healthy kids now.