Obama’s Task Force obesity plan

Posted by Josette Dunn on 17th May 2010

Earlier this week, US First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a Task Force action plan calling on food manufacturers to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Here we take a closer look at the report and its recommendations.

Packed lunch

* According to the report, around one in five children are overweight or obese by the time they reach their 6th birthday, and over half of obese children become overweight at or before age two. Between 1980 and 2001, the prevalence of overweight infants under six months almost doubled, from 3.4% to 5.9%. The report’s recommendations for reducing the risk of obesity in the early years of a child’s life include; strengthening prenatal care; promoting breastfeeding; evaluating the impact of chemical influences in the environment; reducing “screen time;” and improving the quality of child care settings so they can consistently support healthy development.

* Under the recommendation, ‘Empowering Parents and Caregivers’, the report proposes a number of initiatives including; making nutrition information useful by allowing greater access to the right tools and resources that increase nutritional knowledge and help parents and caregivers make healthier choices. The report also recommends an improvement in food marketing and labelling practices by providing more accurate, clear, and consistent information on food packages in order to choose healthier foods. And in a bid to strengthen healthcare providers’ roles, the report recommends that healthcare provides engage in BMI measurement for children, and that parents and families receive specific information and counselling on healthy behaviours from their health care providers.

* Providing healthy foods in schools is the third recommendation from the report. Over 55m US children are enrolled in elementary or secondary school, according to the report. “Unfortunately, some key aspects of current school meals, other foods at school, and environmental factors are contributing to obesity and failing to support good nutrition and physical activity behaviours”, it states. The report recommends; an improvement in the quality of school meals; changes in other foods available at school to ensure that all food sold at school support healthful diets; modifications to curriculum, school program operations, and community policies and infrastructure to match changes in school foods; and revisions to policies and practices in juvenile justice and other institutional settings to ensure that all childhood and youth environments support healthy eating.

* “Millions of low-income Americans live in “food deserts,” neighbourhoods that lack convenient access to affordable and healthy food,” the action plan states, laying out four key elements for ensuring easier access to these types of food. Recommendations include; convenient physical access to grocery stores and other retailers that sell a variety of healthy foods; prices that make healthy choices affordable and attractive; a range of healthy products available in the marketplace; and adequate resources for consumers to make healthful choices, including access to nutrition assistance programs to meet the special needs of low-income Americans.

* Increasing physical activity is the fifth recommendation of the report, which claims that physical activity is related to improvements in mental health, helping to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and increase self-esteem. In order to increase children’s physical activity levels, the report suggests; creating infrastructure and policies within schools that increase access to and encourage physical activity for all students; expand day and afterschool activities; and provide community recreation venues.

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