Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, First Lady Michelle Obama joined Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes and members of the Childhood Obesity Task Force to unveil the Task Force action plan: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation. In conjunction with the release of the action plan, Cabinet Members and Administration Officials will hold events across the country to highlight the importance of addressing childhood obesity.
“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measureable outcomes that will help us tackle the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family, and one community at a time,” Mrs. Obama said. “We want to marshal every resource – public and private sector, mayors and governors, parents and educators, business owners and health care providers, coaches and athletes – to ensure that we are providing each and every child the happy, healthy future they deserve.”
In February, Mrs. Obama launched the Let’s Move! campaign to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. As part of this effort, President Barack Obama established the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to develop and implement an interagency plan that details a coordinated strategy, identifies key benchmarks, and outlines an action plan to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.
The action plan defines solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation as returning to a childhood obesity rate of just 5 percent by 2030, which was the rate before childhood obesity first began to rise in the late 1970s. In total, the report presents a series of 70 specific recommendations, many of which can be implemented right away. Summarizing them broadly, they include:
- Getting children a healthy start on life, with good prenatal care for their parents; support for breastfeeding; adherence to limits on “screen time”; and quality child care settings with nutritious food and ample opportunity for young children to be physically active.
- Empowering parents and caregivers with simpler, more actionable messages about nutritional choices based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans; improved labels on food and menus that provide clear information to help parents make healthy choices for children; reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children; and improved health care services, including BMI measurement for all children.
- Providing healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts; upgrading the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools; and improving nutrition education and the overall health of the school environment.
- Improving access to healthy, affordable food, by eliminating “food deserts” in urban and rural America; lowering the relative prices of healthier foods; developing or reformulating food products to be healthier; and reducing the incidence of hunger, which has been linked to obesity
- Getting children more physically active, through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school; addressing aspects of the “built environment” that make it difficult for children to walk or bike safely in their communities; and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.
Like the Let’s Move! initiative, the Task Force report recognizes that government alone cannot solve this challenge. Achieving the goal will require strong partnerships with the private sector. The First Lady will work with groups such as the Partnership for a Healthier America, a new foundation that will draw upon the experience of honorary vice chairs former Senator Bill Frist and Mayor Cory Booker, to cement private sector commitments towards the shared goal of reducing childhood obesity, including but not limited to the action steps in the report.
Additionally, Federal agencies will be moving quickly to implement the recommendations in the report that require federal action. In the coming year alone:
- HHS will release new guidance for standards for physical activity and nutrition in child care settings, and help consumers make informed choices at restaurants and grocery stores, by getting calorie counts onto menus and by working with the food and beverage industry to develop a clear, standard “front of pack” food label;
- USDA will update the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid to provide parents and caregivers with helpful information about nutrition, and work with Congress to pass a child nutrition reauthorization bill that improves food in schools;
- FTC will continue monitoring how food is marketed to children, with a follow-up study to its 2008 report on industry practices;
- USDA, Treasury, and HHS will work with Congress to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved areas by supporting more than $400 million in investments in a Healthy Food Financing Initiative;
- DOT and EPA will promote walking and biking to school, with a new best practices guide from the DOT-funded National Center for Safe Routes to School and new proposed voluntary “school siting” guidelines from EPA.
- Federal agencies will also make funds available to local communities, including $25 million from HHS to support obesity prevention and screening services for children, and $35 million in physical education program grants to schools from the Department of Education, which will also be working with Congress to create a Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students initiative as part of a reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
In the coming weeks, Cabinet members and Administration officials will hold events that highlight the ways in which each respective agency can do its part to address the childhood obesity epidemic. Below is a summary of upcoming events. For more details, please contact cabinet agencies directly:
- HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez will travel to New Haven, CT on May 13 to highlight a partnership between the New Haven Housing Authority and KaBOOM!, a nonprofit dedicated to providing playgrounds for children.
- HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will join Rep. Baron Hill in visiting an elementary school in Bloomington, Indiana, and will host a discussion with parents, area health officials and childcare providers on obesity prevention and healthy practices for children, of all ages, including creating an environment conducive to breastfeeding and guidance for child care settings.
- Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh will travel to Chicago to highlight the role of health care providers in addressing childhood obesity.
- DOI National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, along with USDA Forest Service officials, will visit Fort Dupont Park in Washington, D.C. with students from nearby Kimball Elementary School.
- Education Secretary Arne Duncan will visit Tyler Elementary School in Washington, D.C. to participate in their after-school physical activity period and highlight their efforts to improve health, wellness and nutrition at school.
- USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will join D.C. Council Members in celebrating the unanimous passage of the Healthy Schools Act at Alice Deal Middle School. The legislation will improve the nutritional quality of D.C. school meals, support farm-to-school and school gardening opportunities, and expand access so that more children get a healthy school breakfast or lunch.