Sunday, February 14, 2010

War on Childhood Obesity: A Fated Fight?

I know you’ve heard this already. Childhood obesity is a major problem in the U.S. The statistics are heart-stopping: one in every three children is overweight or obese, and one third of all the children born in the U.S. in 2000 or later will eventually deal with diabetes, not to mention the myriad of other diseases related to poor diet and lack of exercise. And even though every one reading this might be aware of these statistics or at least have seen the obesity epidemic headline splashed on newsstands and running across the bottom of the news channel for a the past few years, it remains a huge issue. Countless local initiatives and various children’s advocacy groups have been toiling against childhood obesity and yet the national numbers remain frighteningly steady. Enter Michelle Obama and her newly launched Let’s Move public policy campaign. Could the First Lady’s enthusiasm be just what the country needs to actually get moving on this issue?

Let’s Move seems like a really great plan, and it was certainly encouraging and inspiring this past week. It is comprehensive, addressing the issue from every angle. Not only does Let’s Move target school food, and food labeling, but it reaches deeper to acknowledge some of the roots of the problem, like the existence of food deserts and the need for better nutrition education for parents. This holistic approach is promising, especially when coupled with a community-oriented, taking the needs of specific areas into account and coordinating the efforts of government, education, community organizations, health, athletics, and business sectors. The cost of obesity and poor nutrition, after all, benefits almost no one, with the exception, perhaps, of health insurance companies.

The scope of this initiative is vast, so much so that it may seem a little too ambitious. On the other hand, some critics have denounced it as not addressing the real foundation of our food system, and thereby the foundation of obesity in America. The fact remains that as long as our nation’s heavily subsidized agriculture system is largely focused on producing cheap, basically unhealthy foods. The cream of the crop, and perhaps most detrimental to our food, as pointed out by Michael Pollan, is high fructose corn syrup. Corn is also the fuel behind cheap factory farmed meat, and shows up in almost everything we eat.

Is it possible to truly reform the way our children eat in the U.S. when our agricultural system is still so astray? Is it reasonable to expect that an effective nationwide effort can be made to put more healthy, whole, organic fruits and vegetables in schools while the government still so strongly supports the production of cheap, unhealthy food?

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